DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday overturned the marijuana possession conviction of a woman who had been smoking methamphetamine at a house in Des Moines when it was raided by a SWAT team looking for drugs and guns in October 2015.
The woman, Danielle Brown, was in a bedroom of the home with four other people when 10 officers stormed in. All those in the house were handcuffed and taken to another room. Their belongings including Brown’s purse were searched. An officer found marijuana in a bag in her purse and she was charged with possession. She also had been charged with possession of a methamphetamine pipe but that charge was later dropped by prosecutors.
Brown, 31, challenged the search as unconstitutional because she was not named in the search warrant officers had obtained for the house and its occupants. She said the search violated her constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures. A judge denied the motion and in a March 2016 trial she was convicted.
A majority of four Supreme Court justices concluded “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.”
Even when the third party has a relationship to the residence searched, they have an expectation of privacy, the court ruled.
The court said Iowa justices have concluded as far back as 1902 that “personal rights enriched in the Iowa Constitution ‘should be applied in a broad and liberal spirit.’ “
The justices said allowing a visitor to lose all reasonable expectations of privacy by hanging a coat on a rack or placing a purse on a chair or on the floor simply does not comport with reality.
Three members of the court disagreed in a dissenting opinion written by Justice Thomas Waterman. They said the majority ruling ignores the fact that Brown was smoking methamphetamine with a woman named in the search warrant and three men when police entered.
“Brown was not an innocent passerby in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Waterman wrote. She was at the house to smoke meth and the police were there looking for meth and weapons.
“Ample authority and common sense support the validity of this search,” he said.
“After today’s decision, will Iowa’s male drug dealers place their stash in a woman’s purse to impede a search?” he asked. “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?”
The decision overturned Brown’s conviction for possession of a controlled substance for which she served 90 days in jail and had her driver’s license revoked for six months.
Brown’s attorney, Mary Conroy, said she is pleased the court ruled in her favor “and found the Iowa Constitution protects the privacy rights of individuals that are not named in a search warrant.”
Attorneys for the state did not respond to messages.