Nevada court gives police more vehicle search powers
Associated Press Writer
The Nevada Supreme Court has broadened the authority of police to conduct searches of vehicles and their contents, citing a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court decision in which dissenting justices raised constitutional concerns.
The Nevada high court’s ruling Thursday tossed out a Clark County District Court judge’s finding that an officer went too far when he moved a detached center console in a man’s car and found a handgun and three baggies of marijuana.
Justice Ron Parraguirre, who wrote the opinion, also said an evidentiary hearing should be held in the case of David Ruscetta so that written findings can be made regarding the officer’s conduct during the car search.
The lower court judge who said the officer went too far in the vehicle search relied on an earlier state Supreme Court finding against unreasonable “dismantling” of someone’s vehicle, particularly when an officer has no more than a hunch that there might be contraband.
Parraguirre said the latest opinion marks a “retreat” from the earlier state high court ruling, and relies instead on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1991 Florida v. Jimeno decision that said the “totality of circumstances” must be considered in determining whether a vehicle search was proper.
In following the Jimeno case, Parraguirre said the key is whether an “objectively reasonable” officer believes that a suspect’s consent to a vehicle search permitted the way in which the search was conducted.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 opinion in the Jimeno case focused on “objectively reasonable” in finding that a suspect’s permission to let an officer search the interior of his car also extended to a closed paper bag on the floorboards. Police found cocaine in the bag.
In dissenting, then-Justice Thurgood Marshall said an officer conducting a consensual vehicle search should get additional consent to search any containers. Otherwise, he said there’s a violation of the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.
“The only objection that the police could have to such a rule is that it would prevent them from exploiting the ignorance of a citizen who simply did not anticipate that his consent to search the car would be understood to authorize the police to rummage through his packages,” Marshall wrote.