State v. Treutelaar

In State v. Treutelaar, 211 Wis. 2d 892, 568 N.W.2d 653, 1997 WL 213040 (WisCtApp 1997), the Wisconsin Court of Appeals addressed the issue of passenger ownership of a searched container. Bonny Treutelaar was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped during a routine traffic stop and the driver subsequently arrested under an outstanding warrant. Treutelaar was asked by a police officer to exit the vehicle so they could conduct a search incident to the driver's arrest. She asked to be given an 8 x 10 manila envelope lying on the passenger floorboard, explaining it contained some papers and money she wanted to take with her. She was advised to leave the envelope in the vehicle until it could be searched for weapons and contraband. The envelope was searched and found to contain lipstick, mascara, and three wire mesh screens, one smudged with cocaine residue. Treutelaar was arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. Her motion to suppress admission of this evidence was denied and she was convicted at trial. On appeal, judgment was affirmed. The court applied New York v. Belton, noting the envelope was large enough to conceal a weapon or evidence and was within the arrestee's reach. "The ownership of the envelope was irrelevant to the safety of the officers, or the reasonableness of the search ... . If we adopted the defendant's theory, a driver could simply hand over all weapons and contraband to his passenger, or the passenger could claim ownership of any containers in the vehicle, and avoid detection." Id. The court held that the belongings of a passenger may be validly searched after the driver is arrested so long as those belongings are large enough to conceal weapons or contraband and are located in the vehicle when the search is made. Id.