It is perfectly legal for a SWAT Team to stick their noses into every nook and cranny of the property occupied by the suspect named on a search warrant. But a recent ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court has determined that these officers cannot just automatically go through the personal possessions of the home owner’s visitors in search of illegal drugs. Therefore, it’s apropos that an Iowa court drops the marijuana conviction of a meth smoker.
The state’s highest court recently decided that it was unlawful for power-hungry cops to kick down the doors of a potential drug house and rip apart the personal belongings of anyone not listed on the first page of the official search warrant.
Don’t Anybody Move, and Other Cop Clichés
The verdict stems from a case that began back in 2015 when a SWAT Team showed up at a house in Des Moines, Iowa in hopes of making a huge narcotics bust. When the cops busted down the door, waving fully automatic weapons at everything with hair and moving appendages, they discovered several people inside, just minding their own business, getting ripped on a variety of what the government considers “controlled substances.”
One of these high times hooligans was a thirty-something-year-old woman by the name of Danielle Brown. She was reportedly in the back bedroom with four other dope enthusiasts smoking methamphetamine when 10 officers stormed in with all guns blazing, probably screaming something like, “Don’t anybody fucking move,” or some other cliché.
As one might imagine, the situation got a little hairy.
Cops Will Do Anything to Make an Arrest
Once the officers rounded up the suspected drug offenders, they began searching all of their personal belongings, doing whatever they could to sink as many people as possible during the bust. Inside Brown’s purse, the cops found a bag of marijuana. In addition to charging her with possession of meth paraphernalia, they also slapped Brown with a misdemeanor for the sack of weed.
By all accounts, Brown was up shit creek without a paddle. It seemed the cops were hell-bent and determined to bury her as far underneath the prison as legally possible.
But was the search unconstitutional?
Although Brown’s legal counsel argued the search was bogus, the judge didn’t see it that way. The original charge of possession of meth paraphernalia was eventually dropped from the case altogether, but prosecutors were simply not able to let go of the fact that a bunch of gold old boys with badges found a personal stash of marijuana in somebody’s purse.
Brown was ultimately convicted of her pot crimes in 2016. She spent 90-days in jail and had her driver’s licensed suspended for six months.
Understanding the implications of having even a minor drug blemish on her permanent record, Brown decided to challenge the marijuana conviction in the state’s Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court Has Spoken
To the majority of the justices on the panel, Brown’s situation was a cut and dry case of the police officers taking liberties with the law. The ruling, which was handed down earlier this week, states “that when an individual is not named in a search warrant as a party for whom there is probable cause to search, the search of that individual or his possessions is invalid.”
The verdict also concluded that regardless of whether a third party has a relationship with the person listed on the warrant, there is an expectation of privacy at play. This means that cops cannot simply tear into the personal belongings of innocent bystanders, just because they happened to be in the home at the time the cavalry rode in.
It just doesn’t work that way, the justices said. Since 1902, “personal rights enriched in the Iowa Constitution ‘should be applied in a broad and liberal spirit,’” reads the verdict.
The ruling was not unanimous. Justice Thomas Waterman argued that the court failed to take into consideration that Brown “was not an innocent passerby in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and that she was inside the home smoking methamphetamine at the time of the bust. He said “ample authority and common sense support the validity of this search,” and he worries that the outcome of this case will give drug dealers a method for evading prosecution if and when they are ever accosted by the boys in blue.
“Will the police then need to obtain a second warrant to search a purse found on the floor in a house they already had a warrant to search?” Justice Waterman asked in a dissenting opinion.
Final Hit: Court Drops The Marijuana Conviction of a Meth Smoker
The Supreme Court ruling immediately overturns Brown’s conviction for possession of marijuana. However, it only applied to the state of Iowa. So, if you happen to get caught up in a raid and try to escape jail by invoking a little constitutional voodoo and hiding your stash in your neighbor’s purse—you might not get out of the situation unscathed.
But, as we have learned from cases, such as this one involving Danielle Brown, it is important that drug users continue challenging the actions of law enforcement. This is really the only way to hold the police accountable for the tomfoolery they often pull out in the field.
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