State v. Nelson
In State v. Nelson, 89 Wn. App. 179, 948 P.2d 1314 (WashCtApp 1997), the passenger in a vehicle driven by Nelson was arrested based upon an outstanding warrant.
Nelson was asked to get out of the truck and leave her purse, which had been between her legs at the time.
During the officer's search of the vehicle, they searched Nelson's purse and found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Nelson moved to suppress the evidence seized from her purse and the motion was granted.
On appeal by the State, the court noted, "the valid arrest of a driver justifies a search of the car's passenger compartment, not including locked containers. The valid arrest of a passenger justifies a search of the car's passenger compartment, not including locked containers. The valid arrest of either the driver or passenger justifies the search of a purse found in the car, and without so holding, we assume this is true regardless of whether the purse belongs to the driver or the passenger." 948 P.2d at 1316.
The court stated that a distinction exists between a purse left in the car by the defendant when leaving the car and a purse kept by the defendant upon exiting, but ordered to leave the purse in the car pursuant to an officer's instructions. Id.
The court further opined:
"The distinction is based upon the amount of control the non-arrested person maintains over his or her personal property. When the person maintains control over the personal property and there are no furtive movements indicating he or she is trying to hide something, the police are not allowed to search the property.
In order to do a pat-down search of a person, the police must be able to point to specific and articulable facts creating an objectively reasonable belief that a suspect is armed and presently dangerous. citation omitted. Thus, if the police do not believe a person presents a danger, they cannot search the person and their clothing. This would include a purse they are carrying." Id.