Automobile search incident to arrest outside the auto – Thornton v. U.S.

In New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981) the United States Supreme Court ruled that when the police effect the lawful arrest of the occupant of a motor vehicle, the officers may conduct a search of the passenger compartment of the vehicle incident to that arrest in an effort to find weapons, evidence, contraband and the like. In Thornton v. United States, a case decided yesterday, the Justices expanded the rule in Belton and held that the ability to search a vehicle incident to a lawful arrest also applies when the police initially encounter the defendant outside of his vehicle.

It is vital to note that New Jersey does not follow the Rule in Belton to the extent that New Jersey police may not conduct a vehicle search incident to a valid arrest when the reason for the arrest is a motor vehicle violation. See State v. Pierce, 136 N.J. 184 (1994).

Download a copy of Thornton v. United States

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