Our client was charged with 3rd-degree possession after leaving a wallet a CVS store. The store manager decided to look through the purse, and found what they believed to be a controlled substance. The store manager reported the incident to the police, who arrived at the CVS and proceeded to perform a warrantless search on the purse and the wallet (where the alleged controlled substance was seen). and the wallet without a warrant based on information from dispatch and the store manager.
The state argued that the officer's actions were within the scope of a private citizen's search and did not require a warrant. However, Judge Street in Anoka disagreed, stating that the officer should have obtained a warrant before searching the wallet, and therefore, the evidence was suppressed, leading to the dismissal of charges. The crucial factor was that the officer had obtained the client's driver's license and phone number before searching for drugs, making the search warrantless and unconstitutional.
The client, by dismissing a prior attorney's advice to take a "no jail" deal, chose to defend constitutional rights, risking incarceration in the process.
This case, like most simple possession cases, hinged on a single piece of evidence. Without the admissible evidence from the bag, the case crumbled.Either the state can or can not prove that there was an illegal substance in the bag. When they are not allowed to use what they found in the bag, the case is dismissed.
It’s worth noting here that the officer had the information they needed and continued to search. In a lot of cases involving search issues you have a tradeoff between the accused person’s privacy, and some other issue; sometimes it’s officer safety. In this case it was simply trying to return the bag to the rightful owner. Simply forgetting something at a store does not give consent to law enforcement (or the store management for that matter) to search through the bag. They could (and should) have done as little to disrupt the contents as possible to get the information needed and returned the bag to its rightful owner.
Our firm’s record when it comes to privacy and search issues continues to grow one case at a time. We will always work hard to protect the rights and privacy of citizens. If you have been accused of a crime, especially if there are search, privacy or other 4th amendment issues at question, get in contact with our law office today.