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Justices hear arguments on whether search was proper after arrest that violates state law

    WASHINGTON — Driving on a suspended license, David Lee ‘‘Chubs’’ Moore nonetheless had the law on his side. But was it enough?
    Maybe not, the Supreme Court suggested Monday, as the justices questioned whether evidence in criminal cases should be suppressed following arrests that violate state laws.
    At issue is the cocaine conviction of Moore, who was pulled over by Portsmouth, Va., detectives who suspected he was driving while his license was suspended. Instead of sending Moore on his way after writing a court summons — as required by Virginia law — police arrested him and found crack cocaine in his jacket.
    The Virginia Supreme Court threw out the case and overturned his five-year prison term after concluding the search following his arrest was unconstitutional. The state attorney general sought help from the U.S. Supreme Court.
    The justices seemed interested in everything about Moore’s case including his only passenger, a dog.
    Absent another driver to take the wheel, Moore would have been driving on a suspended license again as soon as police let him get back in his car.
    ‘‘Maybe we could say that in these unique circumstances, where the officers could not let the fellow drive off without a license, it was not unreasonable to arrest him,’’ offered Justice Antonin Scalia.
    Moore’s lawyer, Thomas Goldstein, thought it ‘‘an extreme proposition’’ that the Founding Fathers would believe it reasonable to go out and arrest someone for a non-arrestable offense and then search him.
    ‘‘It seems to me we’ve crossed that bridge’’ by previously allowing arrests for not wearing seat belts, Scalia replied. The justice was referring to the case of a Texas soccer mom who was handcuffed and hauled off to the station house because neither she nor her children were wearing seat belts.
    Sometimes state legislatures say you can arrest, sometimes they say you can’t and when you arrest illegally that’s unreasonable, Goldstein told the court.
    An arrest is constitutional if there’s probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, argued deputy Virginia solicitor general Stephen B. McCullough.
    ‘‘Any crime at all; jaywalking, for example?’’ asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
    That’s right, McCullough responded.
    When detectives pulled Moore over, there was a delay in arresting him because the dog in the car was very upset. Due to an unexplained miscommunication, the detectives did not immediately search Moore.
    They called animal control officers to pick up the dog. Forty-five minutes later, the detectives drove Moore to a hotel room where he had been staying. Then they searched him and found crack cocaine in his jacket.
    Justice John Paul Stevens questioned the time lag between the arrest and the search.
    ‘‘It’s an ongoing arrest, is it?’’ Stevens asked. ‘‘That’s kind of a new concept.’’
    McCullough said the delay wasn’t raised as an issue in the case in the Virginia courts, meaning it could not be brought up now.
    Attorneys general from 18 states have lined up in support of the state of Virginia. The American Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union are siding with Moore.
    The case is Virginia v. Moore, 06-1082.

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