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Ohio Supreme Court Cracks Down On Motorist Purse Searches
Ohio Supreme Court rejects policy telling police to search any purse belonging to a motorist arrested during a traffic stop.

Jamie Banks-Harvey
Police in Ohio will have to think twice before searching a motorist's purse during a traffic stop. The state's highest court on Tuesday decided to toss the conviction of Jamie Banks-Harvey after officers went through her belongings in the course of a traffic stop for speeding.

Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Matthew Keener insists the car Banks-Harvey was driving had been clocked at 53 MPH in a 35 MPH zone on October 21, 2014. During the course of the ensuing traffic stop, the trooper learned that Banks-Harvey had an outstanding arrest warrant for heroin possession. She was driving with her boyfriend, Charles Hall, in his car, but he did not have a warrant.

When asked, Hall refused to consent to a search of his vehicle. Banks-Harvey and a second passenger were both placed in handcuffs in the back of the trooper's squad car. The trooper then decided to go inside the car, grab Banks-Harvey's purse, and dump its contents on the hood fo his cruiser. He found drugs and drug paraphernalia. Once the arrests had been completed, Hall was allowed to drive away in his car.

Banks-Harvey argued that the warrantless search of her purse violated the Fourth Amendment. Prosecutors insisted that the trooper's actions were legitimate because it was the policy of the state police to inventory the belongings of anyone placed under arrest. A majority of high court justices agreed with Banks-Harvey.

"The question in this case is not whether the purse was taken from the car pursuant to a standardized law-enforcement policy, but whether such a policy was sufficient justification for the warrantless retrieval of the purse from the car," Justice William M. O'Neill wrote for the majority. "We conclude that it was not and therefore that the subsequent 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."

Banks-Harvey did not have her purse on her at the time of arrest, and the car was not impounded because its owner was able to drive it away lawfully. That meant the police had no legal way to access the purse.

"A law-enforcement policy that an arrestee's personal effects go with them to jail, does not, by itself, authorize an officer to retrieve the arrestee's personal effects from a place that is protected under the Fourth Amendment," Justice O'Neill wrote.

Because the search was illegal, the high court vacated Banks-Harvey's conviction. She had been sentenced to a drug treatment program followed by 90 days of house arrest and three years of community control.

A copy of the ruling is available in a 150k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Ohio v. Banks-Harvey (Ohio Supreme Court, 1/23/2018)

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