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State v. Ritchey

Court of Appeals of Kansas

November 2, 2018

State of Kansas, Appellant,
Linda Faye Ritchey, Appellee.


         1. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects everyone's right to be secure in his or her person and not subject to unreasonable searches by the government.

         2. A warrantless search is unreasonable unless it falls within one of the recognized exceptions to the search-warrant requirement. The State has the burden to show that one of the exceptions applies.

         3. One search-warrant exception covers searches incident to arrest, in which an officer can search the person arrested and the area within that person's immediate control without a warrant. That exception does not apply to a purse left behind by the person who was arrested when the person arrested could no longer gain access to the purse and there's no possibility that the purse contained evidence of the crime for which the person was arrested.

         4. Another search-warrant exception is inevitable discovery, which allows the admission of evidence otherwise unconstitutionally obtained if police eventually would have found the evidence by lawful means. Here, the State claimed the purse would have been taken with the arrested person to the jail and then inventoried. But the State did not show that the exception applied because the evidence was found within a closed billfold within a closed purse, and the State neither presented evidence that the police department had a policy of taking purses to the jail for inventory purposes or any policy about the opening of closed items.

          Appeal from Shawnee District Court; Mark S. Braun, judge.

          Rachel L. Pickering, assistant solicitor general, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, for appellant.

          Sonya L. Strickland, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, for appellee.

          Before Leben, P.J., Green and Malone, JJ.

          LEBEN, J.

         Topeka police officers arrested Linda Ritchey for an outstanding warrant while she was sitting in the front passenger seat of a parked van. After Ritchey was arrested, a police officer searched Ritchey's purse, which Ritchey had left in the van, and found a baggie with methamphetamine residue. Ritchey moved to suppress the evidence from her purse, arguing that it had been found during an illegal search. The district court granted the motion.

         The State appeals, arguing that the district court shouldn't have suppressed the evidence because: (1) officers legally searched Ritchey's purse during a valid search incident to arrest, one of the recognized exceptions to the requirement that officers have a search warrant; and (2) even if the search were illegal, officers would have found the evidence when they processed Ritchey's purse at the police station to hold it in safekeeping for her. But the officers' search of Ritchey's purse wasn't a valid search incident to arrest because the purse wasn't on her person, there was no threat that Ritchey could use any weapons in her purse against the officers, and there was no possibility that her purse contained evidence of her crime of arrest-having an outstanding warrant. Likewise, there was no evidence that the police had a policy to take items like her purse into possession for safekeeping and no evidence that this purse was sent along with her to the jail, so the State failed to show that items within the closed purse would have inevitably been discovered. Because the officer searched Ritchey's purse without a warrant and the search didn't meet any of the exceptions for a warrantless search, the district court properly suppressed the evidence from the purse. We therefore affirm the district court's order granting the motion to suppress evidence.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In July 2017, Topeka police officers responded to a report that a group of women, including defendant Linda Ritchey, might be burglarizing a van in the Academy Sports parking lot. When officers arrived and found the van, they approached Ritchey, who was sitting in the front passenger seat of the van smoking a cigarette.

         Officer Jake Cobler asked Ritchey if the van belonged to her. Ritchey said that it belonged to her friends, who were inside the store. Ritchey gave Cobler her identification, which was in the purse Ritchey was holding while sitting in the van. About six minutes later, a female officer, Officer Ramirez (whose first name is not in our record), asked Ritchey to step out of the van. When Ritchey stepped out, Ramirez put Ritchey in handcuffs, explaining that there was a warrant out for her arrest.

         Once Ritchey was under arrest, Ramirez led Ritchey to the back of the van. Soon after, but while she was still standing at the back of the van, Cobler began searching through Ritchey's purse, which was still where she had left it on the front passenger seat. The baggie was in a pocket ...

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