Justice Stevens wrote for the Court:
After Rodney Gant was arrested for driving with a suspended license, handcuffed, and locked in the back of a patrol car, police officers searched his car and discovered cocaine in the pocket of a jacket on the backseat. Because Gant could not have accessed his car to retrieve weapons or evidence at the time of the search, the Arizona Supreme Court held that the search-incident-to-arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, as defined in Chimel v. California, 395 U. S. 752 (1969), and applied to vehicle searches in New York v. Belton, 453 U. S. 454 (1981), did not justify the search in this case. We agree with that conclusion.The KSC is currently considering a similar issue in State v. Randy Henning, et al., Case Nos. 98,118 & 98,119 (argued 09/03/08). The Gant decision will likely decide the outcome in Henning and affect the constitutionality of K.S.A. 2006 Supp. 22-2501(c) (allowing search incident to arrest to discover the fruits, instrumentalities, or evidence of “a crime”, instead of “the crime”). Here is scotuswiki’s coverage of Gant.
Under Chimel, police may search incident to arrest only the space within an arrestee’s “‘immediate control,’” meaning “the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence.” 395 U. S., at 763. The safety and evidentiary justifications underlying Chimel’s reaching-distance rule determine Belton’s scope. Accordingly, we hold that Belton does not authorize a vehicle search incident to a recent occupant’s arrest after the arrestee has been secured and cannot access the interior of the vehicle. Consistent with the holding in Thornton v. United States, 541 U. S. 615 (2004), and following the suggestion in JUSTICE SCALIA’s opinion concurring in the judgment in that case, id., at 632, we also conclude that circumstances unique to the automobile context justify a search incident to arrest when it is reasonable to believe that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in the vehicle.