Warrantless Entry Into Arrestee’s Vehicle to Seize and Search Purse Without a Warrant, Pursuant to Ohio State Highway Patrol Policy, Held Unconstitutional by Ohio Supreme Court

Tyack Law Justice

By: Holly Cline

Earlier this month, the Ohio Supreme Court held in State v. Banks-Harvey, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-201, that the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s policy that an arrestee’s personal effects must accompany the arrestee to jail cannot, on its own, justify the warrantless retrieval of an arrestee’s personal effects from a location that is protected under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Ohio Constitution. Thus, the Court concluded the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress was error because the officer’s retrieval of defendant’s purse from her vehicle after she was arrested and subsequent search of defendant’s, pursuant to said policy, did not qualify as a valid inventory search, and the inevitable discovery exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement did not apply.

Case Background

Appellant-Defendant, Jamie Banks-Harvey, was pulled over for speeding by Highway Patrol Trooper Matthew Keener. After learning Banks-Harvey had an outstanding warrant from Montgomery County, Trooper Keener removed Banks-Harvey from her vehicle, patted her down, and placed her in the back of his cruiser. Once Trooper Keener received confirmation that the warrant on Banks-Harvey was active, he handcuffed and placed her under arrest. After arresting Banks-Harvey, Trooper Keener returned to the vehicle, removed Banks-Harvey's purse, and searched the purse at the scene.

Trooper Keener found substances in Banks-Harvey’s purse that he believed to be cocaine and heroin, which was later confirmed by field tests. Keener also found needles and a glass pipe.

After the drugs and drug paraphernalia were discovered, Officer O’Neal--a local police officer who had arrived at the scene--told Trooper Keener he had seen a gel capsule on the floor of the passenger side of the automobile. A search of the car by O’Neal uncovered several gel caps and a needle under another passenger's seat. Keener later testified that while he was speaking to the two passengers outside of the vehicle, he observed a gel capsule, which he believed to contain heroin, on the car’s floorboard.

At the conclusion of the stop, the owner of the vehicle, Banks-Harvey’s boyfriend, was permitted to drive away with his car.

Banks-Harvey was indicted for possession of heroin, cocaine, drug paraphernalia, and drug abuse instruments. She moved to suppress the evidence found in her purse. The trial court denied the motion to suppress the evidence. Although finding that Trooper Keener did not have probable cause to search the vehicle or the purse, the trial court admitted the drugs and paraphernalia from the purse under the inevitable discovery doctrine, concluding that Officer O’Neal observation of the gel capsule on the car’s floorboard would have thus led to the search of both the vehicle and Banks-Harvey’s purse.

Appeal to the Twelfth District Court of Appeals

After pleading “not contest” to all conducts of the indictment, Banks-Harvey appealed the denial of her motion to suppress. Upon review, the Twelfth District Court of Appeals held that although the evidence should not have been admitted under the inevitable discovery doctrine, that removal of the purse from the car and its subsequent search was done pursuant to standard Highway Patrol procedures. Thus, the appellate court concluded, the evidence from the purse was properly admitted under the inventory search exception to the warrant requirement.

Issue and Holding by the Ohio Supreme Court

At issue in Banks-Harvey was whether the Highway Patrol’s policy of retrieving and inventorying the belongings of an arrested person was sufficient justification for the warrantless retrieval of the defendant’s purse from her vehicle after the defendant had already been arrested. Concluding that the policy was not sufficient justification for the warrantless removal and search of the defendant’s purse, the Court concluded that the search of the purse did not qualify as a valid inventory search because the purse had not lawfully come into the custody of the police.

Had the defendant requested that the police obtain her purse from the vehicle, consented to the search, or been arrested with her purse on her person, the subsequent search of Banks-Harvey's purse would have likely been lawful.

Ultimately, the sentiment expressed by Judge French during oral arguments carried the day: “Our concern isn’t the overriding purpose of the policy; our concern is the overriding purpose of the Constitution.” Generally, the Court noted, it will not question the reasonableness of an administrative policy that requires troopers to search and inventory personal effects that lawfully come into their custody when a person is arrested. However, “when a law-enforcement officer relies solely on his or her department’s policy to retrieve personal effects from a place that is protected by the Fourth Amendment, those items have not lawfully come into the custody of the officer.”

Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from the Tyack Law Firm Co., L.P.A., or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel or representation on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, county, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

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