Friday, February 10, 2006

Ruminating on searches incident to arrest

I have been thinking about a spot in the latest Criminal Law Reporter involving a New Jersey Supreme Court case disagreeing on state constitutional grounds with the Belton rule, allowing officers to search the entire passenger compartment including the glove compartment incident to arrest of a recent occupant of the vehicle. This decision, State v. Eckel, is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.

First, as the CLR notes:

Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently reaffirmed a broad reading of the Belton rule in Thornton v. United States, 541 U.S. 615 (2004), five justices signed opinions in that case expressing dissatisfaction with the current interpretation of the federal search-incident exception and presaged a return to the issue.

I haven't counted the votes to see what the switch to Roberts-Alito might mean for this issue, but it certainly seems to be an area ripe for litigation.

Second, although the KSC has resisted any notion that the Kansas Constitution might mean something more than the Federal Constitution, Eckel is another example of a state supreme court giving some teeth to its state constitution. From a purely personal perspective, I just don't understand how/why the Kansas courts keep abdicating their responsibility to decide what the Kansas Constitution means. If the KSC thinks the United States Supreme Court has incorrectly too restrictively interpreted the Fourth Amendment, there is not much it can do about that. But if, as in Eckel, and a legion of other state cases, the KSC believed that the Search and Seizure Clause provides more protection than as interpreted by SCOTUS, it would seem to have a duty to do so, under the state constitution. I wonder if we will ever see the day when a criminal case is reversed based on the Kansas Constitution. I know a lot of attorneys here who are interesting in continuing that fight, so be sure to keep citing the Kansas Constitution in your Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment motions to suppress!

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