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Supreme Court rules purse of 3rd party merely present during execution of search warrant may not be

Woman holding purse

Friday, January 5, 2018—the Iowa Supreme Court today reversed and remanded a district court ruling denying suppression of marijuana found during a warrantless search of a third party’s purse execution of a warrant of a premises. Danielle Brown, the third party and named defendant in the court case, was not named in the warrant, was not known to police, and was not in possession of the premises either as a renter or owner of the property. She was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when a SWAT team raided the property and placed her in handcuffs. Photographs of the scene at the time of the raid apparently showed her purse was nearby her.

On appeal, her lawyers argued her purse was not named in the warrant and that she was not known to law enforcement when they made entry.

Examining its decisions in Jamison and Fleming as well as Cline, Justice Appel’s opinion noted that there are no “relationship” nor “notice” test exceptions to the warrant requirement. There can be no “good faith” exception to the warrant requirement if the officers acted in good faith and later determined they were mistaken about the origin of the property, the court reiterated. The decision noted that a “test” for the relationship among occupants and a premises to be searched by warrant would be “tangled.”

“The principle derived from Jamison and Fleming that a search of the possessions of a third party at a residence is unconstitutional when the warrant does not support probable cause to search that particular person has appeal. It avoids the tangled mess of attempting to apply unworkable tests based on relationship or notice,” wrote Justice Appel.

Instead, the Court noted that an unnamed third party’s possessions cannot be searched if person or thing to be searched is not named in the warrant.

Justice Waterman dissented, noting that the majority relied on an inapplicable case. The dissent distinguished the facts of Jamison, wherein it argued that the third party search in that case involved another car "blocks away" from the original search. The dissent also noted that the appellant Brown had not even cited to Jamison.

The dissent also distinguished Fleming, noting that two unrelated persons in a rental house had distinct legitimate expectations of privacy in their respective private rooms.

The dissent further called the majority citation to Cline a "straw man" unrelated to the case, which the majority knocked down by reiterating that there are no good faith exceptions to the warrant requirement, which Justice Waterman argued was not at issue in the case. The dissent further noted that this case is similar to unclaimed property searches during warrant executions that are approved in federal courts, citing to United States v. Gray, 814 F.2d 49 (1st Cir. 1987). Justice Waterman noted that he would approve the purse search under the analysis in Gray, as well as other jurisdictions.

The Waterman dissent, which was joined by Justices Zager and Mansfield, also noted that law enforcement must make very quick decisions in the execution of warrants and emphasized that the majority decision should not be read to prohibit law enforcement from securing the perimeter of the premises to be searched by warrant and rule out the possession of weapons by occupants therein.

NOTE: David A. Cmelik Law PLC has no affiliation to the Brown case.

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