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Appeals Court: Backpack Must Be Actually “Possessed” To Be Searched

Posted Thursday, October 31, 2019 by Andrew Charles Huff

Can police search a person’s backpack if actual “possession” was not established? Not so, says Washington’s Court of Appeals.

An interesting case involving young Ms Alexander sitting in a field with friends marked by a ‘No Trespass” sign. Police arrive to speak with them and notice a pink backpack sitting directly behind Ms Alexander, who said the pack was hers. Ms Alexander is eventually arrested after a warrant pops up on an unrelated matter. The arresting officer takes the backpack and searches it, finding a controlled substance.

Ms Alexander challenged the search of the backpack and argued that the warrantless search was not a “search incident to arrest,” which is an exception to the warrant requirement. The Appeals Court agreed and found that because there was no evidence that Ms Alexander was “holding, wearing, or carrying the backpack at any time during her contact with the arresting officer,” she did not have actual or exclusive possession of it. Therefore, the search of the backpack without a warrant was unlawful.

State of Washington v. Heather A. Alexander, Court of Appeals-Division 1, 77513-8-I

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