The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide when police without a warrant can search the vehicle of a person who is under arrest.
Rodney Joseph Gant was handcuffed, seated in the back of a patrol car and under police supervision when Tucson, Ariz., police officers searched his car.
A sharply divided Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the search violated the Constitution's Fourth Amendment. The state asking the U.S. high court to overturn that ruling.
The justices said they will hear the case next fall to decide whether officers must demonstrate a threat to their safety or the need to preserve evidence to justify a warrantless search in cases like Gant's.
Gant was arrested about 10 feet away from his parked car. When officers searched the car they found cocaine and drug paraphernalia.
The trial court said the evidence could be used against Gant, but Arizona appeals courts overturned the convictions because the officers already had secured the scene and thus faced no threat to their safety or concern about evidence being preserved.
The state said the ruling, if allowed to stand, would impose a "dangerous and unworkable test" that would complicate the daily lives of law enforcement officers.