Police have the power to search arrestees and seize evidence even if the arrest is later found illegal, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Wednesday, April 23.
The ruling stems from a traffic stop in Portsmouth, VA. David Lee Moore was pulled over for driving on a suspended license – a minor crime in Virginia, which typically results in police issuing a court summons before letting drivers leave the scene, according to a report from The Associated Press.
Portsmouth detectives, however, arrested Moore, and prosecutors used crack cocaine taken from him as evidence. Moore was convicted and sentenced to more than three years in prison on a drug charge.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court, which decided police should have let Moore go without searching him.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that when officers have probable cause to believe someone has committed a crime in their presence, the officer is permitted by the Fourth Amendment to arrest and search the suspect in order to protect themselves and keep evidence.
Virginia prosecutors were supported by 18 state attorneys general and officials from the Bush administration, The AP reported.