Troopers violated motorist's rights after searching her purse after she was arrested

Recently, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that the Ohio State Highway Patrol violated a motorist's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  The case involved a woman named Jamie Banks-Harvey, who was pulled over for speeding by an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper.  The trooper arrested Banks-Harvey on an outstanding arrest warrant.  He went back to her car, searched her purse, and found drugs and needs.  The case is State v. Banks-Harvey.

The trooper pulled over Banks-Harvey for speeding.  Neither Banks-Harvey nor her passengers had ID's.  The trooper requested Banks-Harvey to exit the car and seated her in his patrol car to run her information in his computer.  An outstanding arrest warrant for drug offenses popped up.  The trooper placed Banks-Harvey under arrest on the outstanding warrant.  Then, the trooper proceeded to go into the vehicle driving by Banks-Harvey, retrieve her purse, and search it.  The search revealed illegal drugs and needles.  (The owner of the vehicle, who was a passenger in the car, did not give the trooper consent to search the car.)

At issue: was the trooper allowed to search Banks-Harvey's purse after she was arrested?  The prosecutors representing the State argued that the search, although done without a warrant, was allowed because of the inventory search exception to the Fourth Amendment, which allows officers to conduct searches to protect an owner’s property while it is in the custody of the police, to insure against claims of lost, stolen, or vandalized property, and to guard the police from danger.  Banks-Harvey's attorney countered that police had no reasonable grounds to search her purse.  The Court sided with Banks-Harvey.

The Supreme Court sent the case back down to the trial court for further proceedings.  The Court's ruling means that the prosecutors cannot use any evidence gained from the illegal search of Banks-Harvey's search, which was the entire basis of the troopers charging her.

This case was very fact-specific.  However, the big, overarching principles are: Under the Fourth Amendment, police need a warrant to search your property unless they can point to a recognized exception.  In the Banks-Harvey case, the police tried to rely on the inventory search exception, which ultimately failed.

Read the full decision here.

The Stavroff Law Firm