On 21 Apr 09, the Supreme Court addressed the troubling problem of searches of automobiles under the New York v. Belton Warrant Exception. In Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. __ (2009), found here: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-542.pdf (sorry, No Man won’t help me do the fancy links), the arrestee was handcuffed and locked in the backseat of the police car. The Court ruled that Belton had been overapplied and that it did not authorize a vehicle search incident to an occupant’s arrest if the arrestee had been secured and could not access the interior of the vehicle. The Court focused on the Chimel v. California rationale justifying searches incident to arrests: officer safety. Rejecting an expansive reading of Belton, the Court ruled that Chimel only authorizes a search incident to a recent occupant’s arrest when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search.
The Court does make a new exception for cases where the search is for evidence “relevant to the crime of arrest” that might be found in the vehicle. But the Court notes that arrests for traffic violations will not usually provide a reasonable basis to believe the vehicle contains relevant evidence (slip op. at 10).
LCDR Julia Crisfield pointed out to me the conflict with Mil. R. Evid. 314(g)(2)(A) which seems to allow for a search incident to arrest of an automobile even where the occupant is not within reaching distance of the interior of the vehicle.