Wednesday, January 19, 2005

United States v. Mayo (9th Cir. - January 14, 2005)

Especially in light of the contours of existing precedent (particularly Belton), I don't have a problem with the principal issue in this case, which holds that police officers can search the hatchback area of an automobile during a search incident to arrest.

What was a bit more troubling to me was the court's subsidiary holding that Terry stops -- which are made without probable cause and which are traditionally thought of as consisting of a pat-down alongside a minute or two of questioning -- can permissibly take (as in this case) forty minutes. I'd have much preferred that the court simply hold -- as it easily could have -- that the length of the Terry stop here was irrelevant since the police obtained probable cause to arrest the defendant for a felony (placing a stolen registration sticker on his car) within a couple of minutes after stopping him.

Maybe a brief stop-and-frisk is indeed the price we have to pay to live in a safer society. But letting the police forcibly detain someone for nearly an hour without probable cause seems a bit excessive. That's surely the way I'd feel if I were the one detained, anyway.