"The Thirteenth Court of Appeals erred in its application of Arizona v. Gant, in that it did not apply the totality of the circumstances when determining the validity of the search incident to arrest."
Police went to investigate Sanchez while he sat in his car. Sanchez stepped out to identify himself and later admitted he had outstanding arrest warrants for traffic violations. He was placed under arrest and handcuffed. A Terry-frisk revealed two baggies of cocaine. The officer then searched his vehicle without a warrant or consent while the other officer guarded Sanchez. More cocaine was discovered in the car. Sanchez moved to suppress the cocaine. The trial court granted it, finding that the officer's search incident to arrest justification was not credible.
The State appealed. It claimed that Sanchez was under arrest for possession before the vehicle search because the cocaine had been seized from his pocket. Therefore, the officer had probable cause to believe there was more in the vehicle. The court of appeals framed the inquiry as follows: was there cause to believe there would be evidence of the offense for which Sanchez was arrested? It affirmed the suppression ruling, noting that there is no authority authorizing a vehicle search "where a search incident to arrest disclosed evidence of a new offense and that offense was retroactively deemed the reason for the arrest . . . ." It concluded that Sanchez was arrested for the warrants, not the cocaine in his pocket.
The State contends that the court of appeals' reasoning has severe and illogical consequences. The application of the search-incident-to-arrest exception should be based on the status of the suspect when the evidence of a crime is discovered. So if a person was under arrest for a traffic ticket when drugs were discovered, a vehicle search would be unlawful. But if drugs are found based on a detention from a stop, followed by the discovery of drugs, a vehicle search would be lawful. Further, the court of appeals' requirement that the reason an officer gives for the arrest controls conflicts with case law requiring an objective inquiry.