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Virginia v. Moore


Two officers confirmed information that the defendant was driving with a suspended license. They arrested him for the misdemeanor of driving on a suspended license, which is punishable under state law by a year in jail. Under state law, the officers should have issued the defendant a summons instead of arresting him. The officers searched the defendant and found 16 grams of crack cocaine and $516 in cash.


Whether an officer can conduct a search incident to an arrest after making an arrest based on probable cause but prohibited by state law?


Yes. The Fourth Amendment’s edict is met if the office based the arrest on probable cause. If probable cause exists to conduct an arrest, the officer is entitled to conduct a search incident to that arrest.


The Court analyzes search or seizure in light of traditional standards of reasonableness “by assessing, on the one hand, the degree to which it intrudes upon an individual’s privacy and, on the other, the degree to which it is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests.” Wyoming v. Houghton.

In a long line of cases, we have said that when an officer has probable cause to believe a person committed even a minor crime in his presence, the balancing of private and public interests is not in doubt. The arrest is constitutionally reasonable.”

States are free to provide greater privacy protection through statute than that required by the Fourth Amendment. However, failure on behalf of the officers to comply with that statute does not render their actions unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. “[W]hether or not a search is reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment,” we said, has never “depend[ed] on the law of the particular State in which the search occurs” quoting California v. Greenwood (1988).


553 U.S. 164, 128 S. Ct. 1598 (2008)

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