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Iowa Supreme Court: Search of Third-Party at Premises Subject to Warrant Violates State Constitution

by Richard Resch

Police obtained a search warrant for a residence. Jeffrey Sickles was identified as a person to be searched in the warrant. An attached police affidavit stated that his sister listed the residence as her home address. When police executed the search warrant, Danielle Brown was located in the residence. She was kneeling next to her purse and placed in handcuffs. She was not named in the warrant, and she was unknown to the police.

An officer searched her purse and found a zippered pouch that contained baggies full of marijuana. She was charged with possession. She filed a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the search of her purse. She argued that the search was in violation of both the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution.

The district court denied her motion to suppress. A jury found her guilty of possessing marijuana. She appealed, arguing that the district court erred in denying her motion to suppress. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed.

The issue before the Court was “the rights of third parties when law enforcement obtains a premises search warrant which makes no mention of the third party who is present at the time the warrant is executed.”

Under Article I, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution and Iowa Supreme Court case law interpreting it, “when an individual is not named in a search warrant as a party for whom there is probable cause to search, the search of that individual or his possessions is invalid.” The Supreme Court explained that “there are no ‘tests’ to escape the warrant requirement” under Iowa law. The Court further explained that in State v. Cline, 617 N.W.2d 277 (Iowa 2000), “we rejected the notion that there is a ‘good faith’ exception to the exclusionary rule in Iowa.”

The Supreme Court summarized the governing law in Iowa on this issue as follows: “The rule is clear—if a third party is not named in a warrant, that party continues to have expectations of privacy when a search warrant is executed on a residence in which they are present.” That expectation of privacy extends to their personal effects, such as purse or coat.

The State argued that the “actual-possession test” should be adopted and applied. Under that doctrine, a visitor has no expectation of privacy in personal items set down inside the premises. If adopted, the State claimed that Brown had no expectation of privacy with respect to her purse because it was not in her actual possession.

The Court declined the State’s invitation to adopt the doctrine. It observed that such a doctrine “simply does not comport with reality.” Visitors would be shocked to learn that their host, or especially the government, could freely rummage through their personal belongings if set down anywhere within the premises, the Court observed. A rule based on actual possession where visitors must physically clutch their belongings or forfeit all privacy rights in them “is completely unrealistic” and “cannot possibly pass constitutional muster under” the Iowa Constitution, announced the Court.

The State proposed other tests to excuse the warrantless search of Brown’s purse. However, the Supreme Court stated bluntly “the State cannot succeed in any of its warrant-evading tests.”

Applying the foregoing applicable rules to the facts of this case, the Iowa Supreme Court concluded that the search of Brown’s purse violated Article I, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. She was not listed in the search warrant and thus maintained an expectation of privacy in her purse. The mere fact that she was present at a location subject to a search warrant, without more, does not dictate a different result.

The Iowa Supreme Court reversed the district court’s denial of Brown’s motion to suppress, vacated her conviction, and remanded the case to the district court.

See: State v. Brown, 2018 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 1 (2018). 

 

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