High Court To Hear Search and Seizure Case

Meeting for the first time since its decisive ruling on the presidential election, the Supreme Court justices decided to take on a case that may affect search and seizure laws but passed on getting involved in the census sampling debate and rejected an appeal in the Whitewater scandal.

Unwarranted Search and Seizure? No High Sampling The Harassment Cap Whitewater Conspiracy: Case Closed

Unwarranted Search and Seizure

The Supreme Court agreed today to clarify whether police can always search a car without a warrant making an arrest.

The court said it will hear Florida prosecutors’ appeal of a state court ruling that said police cannot automatically conduct such a search if the person got out of the car before the initial contact with police.

In 1997, Robert A. Thomas was arrested after he drove up to a house where police were making arrests for narcotics offenses. Thomas got out of his car and walked toward the rear of the car, where an officer met him and asked to see his driver’s license.

A license check showed an arrest warrant for a probation violation. The officer arrested Thomas, and a search of his car shortly afterward found plastic bags containing a substance that police said tested positive as methamphetamine.

A state trial judge granted Thomas’ request to bar the use of the evidence. A state appeals court disagreed, saying the search was lawful because it followed Thomas’ arrest.

The nation’s highest court ruled in 1981 that when a police officer has arrested the occupant of a vehicle, the officer can search the car’s passenger compartment.

But the Florida Supreme Court ruled that because Thomas had gotten out of the car before he had any contact with police, the officers could not automatically search his car after arresting him. Instead, the court said police must show the search was necessary to protect officers’ safety or to preserve evidence.

The case is Florida vs. Thomas, 00-391.

No High Sampling

The Supreme Court today refused to be drawn into a growing national fight over sampling in redrawing state political districts.

Acting in a case from Virginia, the justices affirmed a three-judge federal court ruling the state had acted prematurely in seeking to avoid getting federal approval for its statute barring the use of sampled Census Bureau data.

Arizona also has a law barring the use of sampled data in redrawing legislative and congressional districts. Arizona and Virginia are among 16 states which are required to get federal approval of election-law changes because of past civil rights violations.

The statistical method known as “sampling,” intended to make up for an expected undercount of minority voters, is in addition to the traditional head count conducted every decade.

The Supreme Court previously barred the use of such sampling to parcel out congressional seats among the states. The 435 House seats are redistributed according to state population after each decennial Census.

Virginia’s Republican-controlled Legislature voted last year to prevent the use of sampling in redistricting.

The state then sued the federal government in an attempt to avoid getting Justice Department approval of the state law. The state argued, among other things, that it needed to move quickly because the first round of redistricting is due before this fall’s off-year elections for the state Legislature.

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