Summary of Virginia v. Moore
Citation: 553 U.S. 164 (2008)
Relevant Facts: David Lee Moore was pulled over while operating his vehicle in Portsmouth, Virginia. During the course of the stop, one of the officers involved heard over the radio that Moore (identified by his nickname known to the officer) was operating his vehicle while his license was suspended. Police determined that Moore was, in fact, driving under suspension and placed him under arrest. However, under Virginia law, officers should have issued a summons to Moore rather than arresting him. Officers proceeding to conduct a search incident to arrest, and uncovered crack cocaine during the course of that search. Moore was charged with possession with the intent to distribute crack cocaine. At trial, he moved to suppress the drugs as the result of an illegal search. Under Virginia law, evidence is not necessarily excluded merely because it was obtained in violation of State law. The trial judge found Moore guilty following a bench trial. On intermediate appeal, Moore’s conviction was overturned on Fourth Amendment grounds but reinstated by that Court sitting en banc. The Virginia Supreme Court again reversed, concluding that since officers were only entitled to issue a citation, and the Fourth Amendment does not permit search incident to citation, Moore’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Issue: Do state law enforcement officers violate a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights by conducting a search in violation of state law that otherwise comports with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment?
Holding: No, when officers make an arrest supported by probable cause but not authorized by state law, the subsequent search is not impermissible under the Fourth Amendment based solely on the violation of state law.
Reasoning: Justice Scalia delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. First, the majority pointed out that the Fourth Amendment was never intended to incorporate all requirements of state law. Rather, the protections afforded are consistent with the privacy interests discernible at the time of ratification as applied to modern defendants. When, as here, history provides no clear answer regarding the propriety of a search under the Fourth Amendment, the Court applies a reasonableness analysis weighing the degree of intrusion against the importance of the governmental interests. In this case, the officers had probable cause to believe Moore had committed an offense, albeit a minor one. Therefore, the search was reasonable. The reasonableness of the search is not altered merely because Virginia has chosen to afford citizens additional protections from arrest in certain classes of minor offenses. Under consistent precedent, the Court prefers bright-line rules for Fourth Amendment cases. The reasonableness of the arrest here is not undermined merely because Virginia has chosen to afford additional protections. Incorporating state law protections into federal constitutional analysis would necessarily complicate inquiries and provide less consistency than existing law. Finally, the majority dismissed Moore’s claim that even if his arrest was constitutional, the subsequent search was not. Here Justice Scalia explained that so long as an arrest complies with the Constitution, the subsequent search incident to that arrest is reasonable. Even where, as here, the arrest was improper under state law and officers would not have been able to search subsequent to a summons, the search is still reasonable under the Fourth Amendment on the basis of an arrest supported by adequate probable cause.
Concurrence: Justice Ginsburg concurred. While she agreed with the substance of the majority’s analysis and the holding, she disagreed concerning the presumption of reasonable arrest whenever an offense is committed in an officer’s presence. Justice Ginsburg wrote separately to emphasize that Moore selectively relied on Virginia law. In this case, Virginia did not require suppression of the evidence at issue where officers arrested him when they should have issued a summons. On that basis, Justice Ginsburg concluded that States may afford additional protections to criminal defendants but the key to the Fourth Amendment analysis is the state-law remedies afforded as a part of those heightened protections.
Dissent: None (unanimous).
Conclusion: States may introduce evidence against a defendant even where his arrest violates state law so long as the arrest is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Having determined that an arrest is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the Court held that search incident to arrest is always proper so long as the underlying arrest is constitutionally proper