In my view we should simply abandon the Belton-Thornton charade of officer
safety and overrule those cases. I would hold that a vehicle search incident to arrest is ipso facto “reasonable” only when the object of the search is evidence of the crime for
which the arrest was made, or of another crime that the officer has probable cause to believe occurred. Because respondent was arrested for driving without a license (a
crime for which no evidence could be expected to be found in the vehicle), I would hold in the present case that the search was unlawful.
No other Justice, however, shares my view that application of Chimel in this context should be entirely abandoned. It seems to me unacceptable for the Court to come
forth with a 4-to-1-to-4 opinion that leaves the governing rule uncertain. I am therefore confronted with the choice of either leaving the current understanding of Belton and
Thornton in effect, or acceding to what seems to me the artificial narrowing of those cases adopted by JUSTICE STEVENS. The latter, as I have said, does not provide the
degree of certainty I think desirable in this field; but the former opens the field to what I think are plainly unconstitutional searches—which is the greater evil. I therefore
join the opinion of the Court.
There you have it. An impassioned plea for a per se rule allowing warrantless searches of vehicles so long as officer Kreskin somehow knows the interior of the car contains evidence of the crime for which the defendant was just arrested.
Hardly sounds like an impassioned defense of privacy rights, the rights of the accused, and the 4th amendment. But then what do we know?
We went to school on the wrong side of the Charles river. (*)
Coming soon: Alito and stare decisis.