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Local authorities not concerned about new search warrant limits

Local authorities say they're not worried about a U.S. Supreme Court decision last month that limits the power of police to search a suspect's car after making an arrest.

"I don't think it's going to disrupt things very much," Goodhue County Sheriff Dean Albers said. "I think law enforcement will be able to work within the parameters of the decision and still get the job done."

In a decision written by Justice John Paul Stevens, an unusual five-member majority said police need a warrant to search the vehicle of someone they have arrested if the person is locked up in a patrol cruiser and poses no safety threat to officers.

Stevens said in the majority opinion that warrantless searches may still be conducted if a car's passenger compartment is within reach of a suspect who has been removed from a vehicle or there is reason to believe evidence will be found of the crime that led to the arrest.

The justices noted law enforcement for years has interpreted the court's rulings on warrantless car searches to mean officers may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle as part of a lawful arrest of a suspect.

But Stevens said that was a misreading of the courts' decision in New York v. Belton in 1981.

The ruling means that simply arresting a suspect is not reason enough to search a vehicle without a warrant. Other factors must be present.

Sheriff's deputies and Red Wing officers have been made aware of the ruling and have been trained on handling the change.

"I'm not worried about it," said Darold Glander, Red Wing police captain. "It's going to be a bit of a change to what we're accustomed to, of course, but I'm confident the officers have a good understanding of the issue."

The decision overturned a three-year prison sentence for Arizonan Rodney Gant, who had been convicted of cocaine possession.

Police found the drug in a search of his car after his arrest for driving with a suspended license. Gant had walked away from his car when he was arrested and he sat handcuffed a distance away while police searched his vehicle.

"Police could not reasonably have believed either that Gant could have access his car at the time of the search or that evidence of the offense for which he was arrested might have been found therein," Stevens wrote.

Justice Samuel Alito Jr., writing for the four dissenters, said the court's new rules will endanger arresting officers and "cause the suppression of evidence gathered in may searches carried out in good-faith reliance on well-settled case law."

Albers said major changes to law enforcement procedure have caused concern ever since he became an officer more than 30 years ago.

Many feared mandated Miranda warnings - a warning given by police to criminal suspects in police custody, or in a custodial situation, before they are interrogated - would make getting crucial information from suspects difficult, the sheriff said.

"Everyone was thinking that was the end of confessions," Albers said. "But we still get plenty of those."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.