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Don’t Look Inside: When Searches Are Illegal

Traffic stops are usually nerve-wracking events. You just know that you’re going to get some sort of ticket. For some people, traffic stops churn their stomachs even more because they have drugs or guns in their car and don’t want the police to find out. The courts have long allowed the police to search the passenger compartment of a car after a stop and arrest. The police are also allowed to search any containers or other closed items found in the car following the driver’s arrest. But what if you’re only a passenger in the arrested person’s vehicle?

Can the police search your purse if you’re only a passenger?

An Ohio court recently addressed the question of searching passengers. Michelle Caulfield was a passenger in a car stopped in Centerville, Ohio by a sheriff’s deputy. The stated reason for the stop was that the rear license plate was covered by snow. The deputy checked the driver and Caulfield for any outstanding warrants and found that the driver was wanted on various charges. The deputy placed him under arrest. Caulfield’s record came up clean. The driver consented to a search of his car, and the deputy ordered Caulfield to get out. She did so, taking her purse with her. The deputy ordered her to leave her purse on the seat. She followed the deputy’s instructions and waited outside. The deputy searched the purse and found marijuana in it. Caulfield asked the court to throw out the evidence as the product of an illegal search.

The court agreed with Caulfield. The search of the inside of the car was justified by the driver’s consent, but the driver had no legal right to consent to the search of Caulfield’s purse, which was neither his nor under his control. Furthermore, the deputy had no reason to believe that there was anything illegal hidden in Caulfield’s purse. In light of those findings, the court ruled that the search of the purse was illegal. Therefore, the prosecution could not use the evidence against Caulfield.

If you are arrested as a result of a search, contact the Columbus Ohio criminal defense attorneys at Yavitch & Palmer Co., LPA immediately. We have the skill to fight for a dismissal of the charges even before trial as a result of the illegality of the search. We also have the experience to defend you at trial if the evidence is not suppressed, and to pursue an appeal or other post-conviction remedies if your case warrants it.

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