Arrests on Outstanding Warrants Don’t Justify Searches of Bags Outside the Owner’s Control

State v. Ritchey, No. 118,905, (Kan. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 2018)

Issue: Law enforcement may conduct a warrantless, though limited, “search incident to arrest” under the Fourth Amendment. Officers arrested Ritchey pursuant to an outstanding warrant. Could they search a purse in the Ritchey’s car—outside her immediate control—without a search warrant?

Answer: No. A bag unrelated to the present offense and outside the owner’s immediate control can’t be searched in a warrantless “search incident to arrest.”

Facts: Ritchey was arrested on an outstanding warrant while sitting in a van. Upon arrest, she left her purse on the front passenger seat. While outside of the vehicle and handcuffed, another officer searched through Ritchey’s purse, discovering a baggie with methamphetamine residue.

Discussion: This search required a warrant because there was no threat to the officer’s safety and there was no possibility that searching the purse could lead to new evidence of the crime for which Ritchey was arrested.

Key Authorities:
Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969) (describing the search incident to arrest exception and the purposes behind it).

Distinguished From:
State v. Sabater, 3 Kan. App. 2d 692, 601 P.2d 11 (1979) (finding that an arrestee’s pocketbook was “immediately associated” with the defendant’s person, and therefore could be searched).

State v. Dickerson, No. 92,957, 2005 WL 3289390, at *4 (Kan. App. 2005) (unpublished) (upholding the search of a purse incident to arrest where the person was arrested for possession of drugs and the drugs were plainly visible in the already-open purse).

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