Just because police had grounds to arrest Hinderman for OWI didn’t mean that they also had reason to believe that evidence relating to the OWI might be found in a 3″x3″ pouch inside her purse, inside her car, where they happened to find marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
The State tried to stretch Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009) a bit too far here. It argued that Gant allowed them to search the Hinderman’s car and the containers within it, including the tiny pouch inside her purse, on the theory that it could have contained a single serving of alcohol. The circuit court wasn’t convinced. Granting suppression, it reasoned:
That wouldn’t hold a half pint of alcohol, it wouldn’t hold a can of beer, it wouldn’t hold the flask-type things that can be used to carry alcohol–it may . . . contain one of those little one-shot bottles of alcohol. But that is simply too remote to be specific and articulable in the scheme. Slip op. ¶10.
The court of appeals agreed with the circuit court’s “reasoned and thoughtful analysis” and adopted it as its own. Slip op. ¶11.
The court of appeals highlighted a “highly charged” issue that courts are discussing throughout the country: does an OWI arrest supply a per se basis for searching the passenger compartment of an arrestee’s car and any containers in it? The court of appeals affirmed only on the narrow reasons provided by the circuit court and said: “As the Supreme Court did in Gant, we wait for another day to take up this issue.” Slip op. ¶13.