How fast is the turnaround in car-search law? Just this fast, as the 4th Circuit yesterday made a U-turn and vacated a cocaine conviction out of Roanoke federal court.
In an unpublished opinion in U.S. v. Majette, the 4th Circuit said an “evidence-producing automobile search incident to the arrest of Tony Majette for a driving offense turns out to be unlawful under the Supreme Court’s new opinion in Arizona v. Gant,” released April 21 by the high court.
Majette was stopped by a Blacksburg police officer June 5, 2006, because his Cadillac had an “impermissibly dark window tint.” Majette admitted to a suspended driver’s license and a record check showed numerous traffic infractions. The officer took Majette into custody and found two baggies of cocaine base in the car.
The 4th Circuit panel said the facts in Majette’s case were “strikingly similar” to Gant. The Cadillac’s passenger compartment was not within Majette’s reach at the time of the search, and police would not have had a reasonable basis to believe they would find evidence of Majette’s license suspension – the offense of arrest – within that space.
Under Gant, the search was unreasonable and the drugs and scales should be suppressed.
By Deborah Elkins