CRIMINAL PROCEDURE – Searches, automobile, passenger compartment: Keith Owens v. Commonwealth of Kentucky (SC 8/27/2009)

Keith Owens v. Commonwealth of Kentucky
2006-SC-000037-MR August 27, 2009
Opinion by Chief Justice Minton. All sitting; all concur.

The United States Supreme Court remanded this case for reconsideration in light of its recent decision in Gant. In Gant, it narrowed the scope of permissible warrantless searches of automobiles following an arrest to instances where the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or when it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. In this case, Owens had been a passenger in a vehicle whose driver was arrested for a traffic offense. The driver was searched and found to be carrying narcotics. The officer then ordered Owens out of the car and while conducting a Terry search, discovered narcotics on Owens’ person. The trial court denied Owens’ motion to suppress and he was subsequently convicted. On remand, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that Gant did not affect the conviction. Further, the Court adopted the “automatic companion rule,” which states that all companions of the arrested driver within the immediate vicinity, capable of accomplishing a harmful assault on the officer, are constitutionally subjected to a cursory “pat-down” reasonably necessary to give assurance that they are unarmed.

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