Legality of Arrest Based on Probable Cause, not State Law – Virginia v. Moore

In a decision released earlier today, the United States Supreme Court ruled that although police may conduct searches of criminal suspects incident to a lawful arrest, the lawfulness of an arrest is based exclusively upon the existence of probable cause and not statutory state law. The Justices also held that state restrictions on police powers of arrest do not affect the operations and protections of the Fourth Amendment.

The facts of the case, set forth in Virginia v. Moore, involve an arrest by the police of a motorist who was driving on the revoked list. After arresting the driver, the police conducted a search of his person incident to the arrest. The search yielded distribution levels of controlled dangerous substances. Under Virginia state law, the police should not have arrested the driver, but merely should have given him a summons. As a result, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed a suppression of the drug evidence seized by the police. The United States Supreme Court reversed this decision today, holding that regardless of state law restrictions or limitations on police arrest powers, when the police have probable cause to effect an arrest for an offense committed in their presence, the Fourth Amendment permits them to make the arrest and conduct a search of the person in order to recover evidence and assure their own safety.

Download a copy of Virginia v. Moore.

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