State Court Upholds Warrantless Search of Woman’s Purse


In a 5-4 ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld a Yakima police officer’s decision to search a woman’s purse without a warrant.

Lisa Ann Byrd was in the passenger seat of a car with stolen license plates in 2009 when the officer arrested her and the car’s driver. At the time of her arrest, Byrd had a purse on her lap.

The officer handcuffed her and placed her in the back of the police car then returned to the other car and searched Byrd’s purse. The cop found a glass case containing methamphetamine.

A Yakima County Superior Court judge ruled that the meth seized couldn’t be used at a trial because the officer didn’t have a warrant to search the purse. The state appeals court later agreed.

But the state supreme court reversed that decision on Thursday.  Justice Debra Stephens wrote for the majority that officers are always allowed to search someone’s “person” at the time of arrest and because the purse was on Byrd’s lap, it should be considered part of her person.

Justice Mary Fairhurt disagreed and wrote that search of a suspect and his or her immediate surroundings are allowed to prevent destruction of evidence and if there’s concern for the officer’s safety. In this case, neither of those things was in question, wrote Fairhurt.

Byrd was arrested after the driver told the officer it was her car. Justice Steven Gonzalez questioned whether the officer had probable cause to arrest Byrd at all, seeing that the driver had reason to lie.

If there was no probable cause to arrest Byrd, then her arrest was illegal and so was the search of her purse, Gonzalez said.

The majority said Byrd could still pursue an appeal.

Source: The Associated Press


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