Ohio Supreme Court rules traffic stop purse search unconstitutional

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 decision Tuesday that a state trooper’s search of a woman’s purse during a traffic stop violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Writing the lead opinion, Justice Bill O’Neill said in the course of events leading to the arrest, the trooper provided no justification for searching the vehicle without a search warrant.

Related: Ohio Supreme Court: backpack searches fair game on school property

The ruling stems from 2014 traffic stop in Warren County by the Ohio Highway Patrol.

Jamie Banks-Harvey, who was pulled over for speeding, provided identification but did not have a driver’s license. She was patted down and placed in the back of the cruiser while her purse remained in the car.

The trooper found Banks-Harvey had an outstanding arrest warrant in Montgomery County for heroin possession and her passenger, Shannon Holcomb, had an arrest warrant in Warren County for drug paraphernalia possession.

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The trooper asked the second passenger, Charles Hall, who owned the car, if he could search the vehicle. Hall said no. The trooper reached into the vehicle to grab Banks-Harvey’s purse and then searched it, discovering pills, capsules and needles.

A local officer on the scene said he might have seen a capsule in Hall’s car so the trooper then searched the car and found a needle and empty capsule.

Banks-Harvey pleaded no contest to drug charges that were based on the items found in her purse and she was sentenced to three years of community control and mandated inpatient drug treatment. The trial court denied her motion to suppress the evidence found.

“Neither the purse, nor the vehicle that contained the purse, came into police custody as a result of her arrest. On these facts, the state has failed to show that this search fits under the inventory-search exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement,” the Ohio Supreme Court majority opinion said.

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