Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Lambert, 710 P.2d 693 (1985).
This case answers the following questions:
Can an officer search an individual or the individual’s possessions when executing a search warrant on the premises for another individual?
The issue in this case is whether a person that is not named on a search warrant but is on the premises retains individual Fourth Amendment protections different from those of the person described in the warrant. Unless consent to search is provided, an officer must present a search warrant which describes the premises to be searched with sufficient particularity. Id. at 696. Generally, women have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their purses and the contents. Id. at 697. During execution of a warrant, individuals located in the premises that are neither the individual named or described in a warrant retain individual protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Id. at 697.
In this case, police officers conducted a search of an apartment by a valid search warrant for a person named Randy and a white powder. Id. at 694. During the search, officers encountered three women, two that were in the kitchen and one that was in bed sick. Id. On the kitchen table, there was a purse and marijuana on a serving tray. Id. The officer then removed the women to another room, placed them under arrest, and returned to search the purse which contained marijuana and amphetamine. Id. at 695. The Court reasoned that in this case, “officers had no probable cause to believe that any person found in the apartment, except Randy, would be violating the law.” Id. at 697. Additionally, the Court stated, “a person’s mere nearness to others independently suspected of criminal activity does not, without more evidence, give rise to probable cause to search that person.” Finally, the Court concluded that there was no reason to believe the purse belonged to Randy or was reasonably part of the premises described in the warrant. Id.