Wagner v. Hedrick

In Wagner v. Hedrick, 181 W. Va. 482, 383 S.E.2d 286 (1989), the defendant was involved in a motorcycle accident and taken to a hospital. While in the hospital, a police officer searched the trousers of the defendant for identification. During the search the officer discovered a gold coin. The gold coin eventually formed the basis for connecting the defendant to an unsolved murder and robbery. On appeal, the defendant argued that the search of his trousers was unlawful without a warrant. The Court rejected the argument. In doing so, we first noted that "while the word 'search' is capable of many definitions, the United States Supreme Court has stated that 'a search ordinarily implies an intrusive 'quest by an officer of the law.' J.W. Hall, Search and Seizure 1:6 (1982). However, 'when there is no intrusion on an expectation of privacy, there is no search.' Id." Wagner, 181 W. Va. at 487, 383 S.E.2d at 291. The Court went on to reason as follows: "Given the facts evident from the record, we cannot find that Wagner could have exhibited a reasonable expectation of privacy in his personal effects in this hospital emergency room on this particular night. Rather, we believe Wagner's expectation of privacy was necessarily diminished by the circumstances under which he was brought into the hospital. Any expectation of privacy which Wagner may have had could not be termed "reasonable" because he was in a hospital emergency room, one which many people had access to and in which many people, particularly medical personnel, were constantly moving around. The area was freely accessible to law enforcement officers, and Trooper Pinion had a right to be there that night by virtue of his duty to investigate this particular accident. It is apparent that Wagner had very little control over what happened in the emergency room area and that he and his personal effects could be placed wherever the hospital staff chose to put them." (Wagner, 181 W. Va. at 487, 383 S.E.2d at 291.)