US SUPREME COURT REVERSAL IN VIRGINIA v. MOORE
[Posted April 23, 2008] Remember all those prosecutors who were in mourning last Friday, after the prosecutorial washout in which they lost six of six rulings in the Supreme Court of Virginia? If you check today, you’ll find them dancing, as the Supreme Court of the United States hands down a unanimous reversal in Virginia v. Moore, the case that analyzes the metaphorical “search incident to a lawful traffic ticket.” Writing for the court, Justice Scalia notes that while Virginia provides additional privacy protections (beyond those provided in the US Constitution) for its citizens against arrest in minor matters, the federal constitution doesn’t provide an exclusionary remedy for a violation of those purely state law protections. Moore was stopped for driving on a suspended license, but subsequently prosecuted when officers searched him and found cocaine.
Justice Scalia writes that the arrest was perfectly permissible under the federal constitution, although Virginia law required that Moore be released on a summons. But “it is not the province of the Fourth Amendment to enforce state law,” so the arrest and subsequent search, whileviolative of state law, do not offend the federal constitution.
Justice Ginsberg writes a separate concurring opinion, agreeing that the conviction should stand, but interpreting early caselaw somewhat differently from the other justices.
Without quesiton, this is a major victory for prosecutors, who will celebrate the renewed freedom to use evidence in situations like this, where states elect to provide greater protections than are mandated by the federal constitution. In those circumstances, a defendant can’t turn to federal law to enforce those protections.
This case has had a tortuous procedural history. Moore was convicted at trial, then a panel of the Court of Appeals of Virginia reversed that conviction. The CAV then granted en banc rehearing, at which a majority of the court voted to affirm the conviction. The Supreme Court of Virginia then granted a writ and affirmed, unanimously, last year. Today’s ruling reverses the SCV’s judgment and reinstates Moore’s original conviction.
Here is a link to the very useful site SCOTUSBlog, in where Lyle Denniston provides a good summary of the decision; you’ll need to scroll down to the 10:05 am posting.