WHEN DOES A POLICE OFFICER “GO TOO FAR” IN EXECUTING A SEARCH WARRANT?
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 (Kan. 1985).
This case answers the following question:
When does a police officer exceed the scope of a search warrant?
The issue in this case is whether police officers executing a search warrant have a unlimited right to detain and search those persons and their personal effects, not named or described in the warrant, that just happen to be within the described area of the search. 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.
Police officers had obtained a search warrant for the search of an apartment and its resident, Randy. Upon executing the warrant, officers found three women in the apartment. One of the women was sick in bed, and the other two women were sitting at the kitchen table. The officers found a tray between the two women containing marijuana and a partially burned, hand rolled cigarette containing marijuana. All three women were placed under arrest for possession of marijuana. The officer then searched a purse that he found on the kitchen table. The purse contained marijuana and a white powder, which was later discovered to be amphetamine. The detective asked Lambert if the purse belonged to her, and when she responded affirmatively, the officer arrested her for possession of methamphetamine. Lambert filed a motion to suppress the evidence, which was denied by the judge, and she was found guilty. Lambert then filed a motion for a new trial, alleging the judge erred in failing to suppress the evidence. At the hearing for the motion for a new trial, the judge concluded that he had erred in failing to suppress the evidence. The judge then found Lambert not guilty, and the State appealed the decision.
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. On its appeal, the State relied on K.S.A. 22-2509 which states that “[i]n execution of a search warrant the person executing the same may reasonably detain and search any person in the place at the time: (a) to protect himself from attack, or (b) to prevent the disposal or concealment of any things particularly described in the warrant.” This does not give the officer executing the search warrant an unlimited right to detain and search any person in the place at the time of execution of the warrant.
In this case, the officer executing the search warrant did not have a reason to believe that the purse lying on the kitchen table belonged to Randy, therefore the purse was not part of the premises described in the search warrant. Further, the officers had no reason to believe that any person found in the apartment, except Randy, was violating the law. For this reason, the people not named and not described in the search warrant retained individual protections against an unreasonable search or seizure.
A police officer may search a nonresident visitor or his belongs while executing a search warrant for the premises under the following circumstances: where the individual consents to being searched, where the item is in plain view on the person or in his possession, where there has been a valid arrest, and where there is probable cause to search plus exigent circumstances. In this case, none of these circumstances were applicable.
The court affirmed the lower court’s decision and denied the appeal by the State. The Supreme Court of Kansas held that the evidence was correctly suppressed.