Supreme Court Finds No Violation of Fourth Amendment Rights

By: Gerri L. Elder

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently made a unanimous ruling that has overturned a ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court regarding Fourth Amendment rights.

David Lee Moore, a driver in Portsmouth, Virginia, was pulled over by police after a radio call alerted them, and it was discovered that he was driving while his license was suspended. In Virginia, driving on a suspended license is a minor crime — according to state law, motorists are to be issued a police summons to appear in court and let go without being arrested. Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, searches are to be conducted only after lawful arrests.

Instead of ticketing Moore and sending him on his way, police detectives arrested him. After reading Moore his Miranda rights, police asked for his consent to search his hotel room. Moore consented to the search. During the search of the hotel room, police also conducted a personal search of Moore and found 16 grams of crack cocaine. He was arrested and charged with possession of the drugs with intent to distribute.

At his trial, Moore’s criminal defense attorney asked the court to suppress the crack cocaine evidence and argued that it was seized in violation of Moore’s Fourth Amendment rights. The court rejected the argument and denied Moore’s lawyer’s motion to suppress, and Moore was convicted.

Moore and his lawyer appealed and continued to appeal until the case was heard by the Virginia Supreme Court where their persistence paid off. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the crack cocaine evidence to be used against Moore during his criminal trial and cited the United States Supreme Court’s 1998 opinion in Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U.S. 113 (1998). In Knowles, the U.S. Supreme Court found that police did not have the authority to search the car of a man who was stopped for a minor traffic violation, punishable by only a citation. Lawyers for the state of Virginia argued that Moore’s case was different because he was under arrest at the time of the search.

When Moore’s case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices found that Moore’s arrest had been legal and constitutional, although it was against Virginia state law and the search was conducted after he had been read his Miranda rights and placed under arrest, according to a report by Medill Journalism. The Supreme Court also found that the crack cocaine evidence was admissible.

Moore’s criminal conviction on the drug charge and sentence of three and a half years in prison was upheld.