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State v. Banks-Harvey

Supreme Court of Ohio

January 16, 2018

The State of Ohio, Appellee,
v.
Banks-Harvey, Appellant.

          Submitted April 6, 2017

         Appeal from the Court of Appeals for Warren County, No. CA2015-08-073, 2016-Ohio-2894.

          David P. Fornshell, Warren County Prosecuting Attorney, and Kirsten A. Brandt, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

          Timothy Young, Ohio Public Defender, and Eric M. Hedrick, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

          Michael DeWine, Attorney General, Eric E. Murphy, State Solicitor, and Peter T. Reed, Deputy Solicitor, urging affirmance for amicus curiae, Ohio Attorney General.

          O'NEILL, J.

         {¶ 1} This case addresses whether a law-enforcement agency's policy that an arrestee's personal effects must accompany the arrestee to jail can, on its own, justify the warrantless retrieval of an arrestee's personal effects from a location that is protected under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We hold that it cannot. We further hold that a search of personal effects obtained as a result of following such a policy is not a valid inventory search. We further conclude that in this case, the exclusionary rule applies to require the suppression of the evidence obtained during the unconstitutional search. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals, which upheld the trial court's denial of the appellant's motion to suppress the evidence found during the search of her purse, and we vacate the appellant's convictions and sentence.

         Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} This case arises out of a lawful traffic stop. On October 21, 2014, an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper stopped the appellant, Jamie Banks-Harvey, for speeding. The stop was video and audio recorded, but because of the way the cars were positioned, the vehicle the appellant was driving cannot be seen in the video after she pulled over. The vehicle had three occupants, the appellant, her boyfriend, Charles Hall, who owned the vehicle, and Shannon Holcomb. When the trooper asked the appellant for her driver's license, she told him that she did not have one. Instead, the appellant reached into her purse, retrieved her state of Ohio identification card, and gave it to the trooper. She explained that she was driving Hall's vehicle because Hall had hurt his hand and she was taking him to get medical attention. The appellant also told the trooper that she and Hall lived together.

         {¶ 3} The trooper requested licenses from Hall and Holcomb, but neither of them were carrying their licenses, so he collected their Social Security numbers for identification purposes. The trooper asked the appellant to step out of the vehicle. He performed a pat-down search of the appellant and placed her in the back seat of his cruiser. The appellant did not have her purse with her when she was placed in the trooper's cruiser; it remained in Hall's vehicle. The trooper's computer alerted him that the appellant possibly had an outstanding warrant for her arrest for possession of heroin in Montgomery County and that Holcomb possibly had an outstanding warrant for her arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia in Warren County. Hall, the vehicle owner, had no outstanding warrants for his arrest.

         {¶ 4} A local police officer arrived on the scene while the trooper was waiting for confirmation of the warrants. The trooper told the officer that the appellant and Holcomb both had outstanding warrants for their arrest and that Hall, the vehicle owner, did not. The trooper then approached Hall and told him that both the appellant and Holcomb had drug-related warrants for their arrest. He asked Hall whether the appellant and Holcomb used heroin regularly, and he told Hall that it was within his discretion to impound Hall's vehicle but that he had not yet decided whether he would do so. Then he asked if he and the officer could search Hall's vehicle. Hall did not grant consent. Upon confirmation of the warrants, the trooper arrested Holcomb and put her in the back of his cruiser with the appellant. At this point, both the appellant and Holcomb were under arrest on the outstanding warrants and were going to be taken to jail.

         {¶ 5} The trooper then entered Hall's vehicle, retrieved the appellant's purse, placed it on the hood of his cruiser, and searched it. As he searched the purse, the trooper laid the items from the purse on the hood of his cruiser. The appellant's purse contained, among other things, a baggy with ten yellow pills, three needles, one of which contained brown liquid, three clear capsules filled with brown powder, and three clear capsules filled with white powder. The trooper showed the officer the drugs he had found in the appellant's purse, and then the officer said that he might have observed a capsule in Hall's vehicle. The officer then searched the vehicle and found clear capsules and a needle. No one was arrested or charged based upon anything found in the search of Hall's vehicle. Hall's vehicle was not impounded, and Hall was permitted to drive it away.

         {¶ 6} The appellant was charged with felony possession of drugs and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia and drug-abuse instruments based on the items found in her purse. She filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the search of her purse violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In its response to the motion to suppress, the appellee, the state of Ohio, argued that the evidence found in the appellant's purse should not be suppressed, because it fell within at least one of the following three exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's search-warrant requirement: (1) search-incident-to-arrest exception, (2) plain-view exception, and (3) inventory-search exception.

         {¶ 7} The trial court rejected each of the three rationales the state put forth to justify the warrantless search of the appellant's purse. The court held that under Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 351, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009), the search of the appellant's purse was not a lawful search incident to arrest. The court found that the trooper retrieved and searched the purse after he had handcuffed and secured the appellant in his vehicle and so she was not within reach of her purse when he retrieved and searched it.

         {¶ 8} The trial court held that the plain-view exception, under Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 375, 113 S.Ct. 2130, 124 L.Ed.2d 334 (1993), did not justify the search of the appellant's purse, because there was no testimony to suggest that the appellant's purse possessed an incriminating character that was immediately apparent. And the trial court rejected the state's argument that this was a valid inventory search under South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 372, 96 S.Ct. 3092, 49 L.Ed.2d 1000 (1976), because the car that contained the appellant's purse was not impounded.

         {¶ 9} Despite rejecting the state's arguments, the trial court nevertheless denied the appellant's motion to suppress. The trial court concluded that regardless of the fact that the trooper did not have probable cause to search the vehicle at the time he searched the appellant's purse, the officer had probable cause to search the car based on his observation of the capsule in the car and the suspicious behavior of the occupants. Thus, the court held, the contraband in the appellant's purse would inevitably have been discovered in the search of the vehicle. United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 72 L.Ed.2d 572 (1982).

         {¶ 10} Following the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress, the appellant pled no contest to the charges. On August 7, 2015, she was sentenced to three years of community control, and she is subject to a one-year prison sentence if she violates the community-control sanctions. She was also ordered to, among other things, complete inpatient drug treatment and to serve 90 days of electronically monitored house arrest after her release from the drug-treatment facility.

         {¶ 11} The appellant appealed her convictions, arguing that the trial court had erred in denying her motion to suppress. She maintained her argument that the evidence had been seized in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. The state disagreed, arguing that the trial court had not erred in denying the appellant's motion to suppress because (1) the drugs would inevitably have been discovered in a search of the vehicle, (2) the drugs were discovered during a valid inventory search of the purse, and (3) the drugs would inevitably have been discovered during an inventory search of the purse at the jail.

         {¶ 12} The appellate court upheld the reasonableness of this search under the Fourth Amendment, but its reasoning was different than the trial court's. The appellate court rejected the trial court's conclusion that the evidence would inevitably have been discovered during a valid search of the vehicle. The court found that the state had not produced any evidence to establish that the officer was pursuing a line of investigation involving Hall's car prior to the search of the appellant's purse. The appellate court noted that the officer did not testify at the hearing and that the recording offered by the state established that the trooper found the syringes and drugs in the appellant's purse before the officer informed the trooper that he had seen a capsule in Hall's car. Nonetheless, the appellate court upheld the denial of the motion to suppress, concluding that the retrieval of the appellant's purse from the car was done pursuant to a standard Ohio State Highway Patrol policy and that the drugs and drug paraphernalia found in the appellant's purse were admissible as the fruits of a valid inventory search of the purse once it was in police custody.

         {¶ 13} This court accepted the appellant's appeal on the following proposition of law:

Because the mere adoption of a policy by the Highway Patrol to retrieve and inventory the belongings of an arrested person cannot authorize unconstitutional police action, the warrantless entry into a car to retrieve the purse of an already-arrested person and the subsequent warrantless removal and search of that purse violates the Fourth Amendment and Section 14, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.

         The state asserts the following proposition of law:

When conducted pursuant to standard policy or procedure, the seizure and search of an arrestee's purse before the arrestee is taken to jail or incarcerated falls within the inventory search exception to the warrant requirement and does not violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution or Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution. When the State's evidence establishes that the seizure and search fall within the inventory search exception and further establishes that the contraband found in the purse would have been inevitably discovered in a lawful search of the vehicle and/or a search of the arrestee's belongings at the jail, a trial court properly does not suppress the evidence.

See 146 Ohio St.3d 1502, 2016-Ohio-5792, 58 N.E.3d 1173.

         Standard of Review of a Ruling on a Motion to Suppress

         {¶ 14} Appellate review of a ruling on a motion to suppress presents a mixed question of law and fact. State v. Burnside, 100 Ohio St.3d 152, 2003-Ohio-5372, 797 N.E.2d 71, ¶ 8. An appellate court must accept the trial court's findings of fact if they are supported by competent, credible evidence. See State v. Fanning, 1 Ohio St.3d 19, 20, 437 N.E.2d 583 (1982). But the appellate court must decide the legal questions independently, without deference to the trial court's decision. Burnside at ¶ 8.

         The Fourth Amendment

         {¶ 15} The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

         {¶ 16} This court has held that in felony cases, Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution provides the same protection as the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. State v. Jones, 143 Ohio St.3d 266, 2015-Ohio-483, 37 N.E.3d 123, ¶ 12.

         {¶ 17} The Fourth Amendment proscribes all unreasonable searches and seizures. Ross, 456 U.S. at 825, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 72 L.Ed.2d 572. It is a restraint on the government. "[S]earches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment-subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." (Footnote omitted.) Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967).

         {¶ 18} When a defendant moves to suppress evidence recovered during a warrantless search, the state has the burden of showing that the search fits within one of the defined exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. Athens v. Wolf, 38 Ohio St.2d 237, 241, 313 N.E.2d 405 (1974).

         {¶ 19} Here, the state asserts that the search of the appellant's purse in this case fits within the inventory-search exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. We disagree for the reasons explained below.

         Inventory-Search ...


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