No, law enforcement is not permitted to search your purse if someone you are riding with is stopped for a traffic violation. While law enforcement is allowed to conduct a brief investigatory stop,
[T]he police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.”
The officer’s suspicion must amount to more than an inarticulate hunch.
What If I Leave My Purse in the Car?
If law enforcement places the driver of the vehicle under arrest, and you happen to forget that your purse is in the vehicle and leave it behind, this does not automatically give law enforcement permission to search it. Once law enforcement has arrested the driver of a vehicle, they will often impound that vehicle and perform an inventory search.
An inventory is where law enforcement searches a vehicle and catalogs everything found within that vehicle. Law enforcement usually states these types of searches are necessary to protect them from claims of lost or stolen property from the owners of vehicles that law enforcement has impounded.
What Constitutes a Warrantless Inventory Search?
Three criteria must be met for a valid warrantless inventory search of a vehicle,
- the original impoundment of the vehicle must be lawful,
- the purpose of the inventory search must be to protect the owner’s property and the police from claims of lost, stolen, or vandalized property, and to guard the police from danger, and
- the inventory search must be conducted in good faith pursuant to reasonable standardized police procedures and not as a pretext for an investigatory stop.
These three criteria mean that law enforcement can only conduct an inventory search when the vehicle was impounded for a proper reason, such as the driver being arrested and to protect the property of the vehicle owner and not simply to search the vehicle looking for additional contraband. This means that if you were not arrested at the same time as the driver of the vehicle, the inventory search would not be to protect your property, only the property of the driver. The officers performing the search must also follow a standardized police procedure, although these policies may be different from one police department to another.
Contact an Experienced Attorney Today
Without meeting these three criteria, law enforcement will not be able to search your purse legally if you are the passenger in a vehicle that is pulled over for a traffic violation. If you find yourself to be the subject of an illegal search like this one, contact Schierer & Ritchie LLC. to fight for you at (309) 839-2024.