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Fourth Circuit Invalidates Search of Arrestee’s Backpack

red backpack

At The Moore Law Firm, we strive to keep up-to-date with recent court decisions concerning the Fourth Amendment, which is the constitutional amendment that we most often use to represent our clients in court.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches of persons, houses, papers, and effects, which includes a person’s backpack. A warrantless search is invalid unless it falls within one of the judicially recognized exceptions. One such exception is a search incident to a lawful arrest. This exception allows a police officer to search an arrestee’s person and the area within his immediate control, for the purpose of officer safety and the preservation of evidence.

With regard to the search of a vehicle following a person’s arrest, the Supreme Court in Arizona v. Gant found that police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest if the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance at the time of the search.

In United States v. Davis, the Fourth Circuit was presented with the issue of whether the holding in Gant applied beyond the context of an automobile and to the backpack of a recent arrestee. The Court found that it did in a decision issued on May 7, 2021.

Davis was handcuffed with his hand behind his back and lying on his stomach while police searched his backpack. The Fourth Circuit concluded that, under those circumstances, the search violated the Fourth Amendment.