Wednesday, April 26, 2006

AD4: Cocaine secreted in zippered compartment of shaving bag not in "plain view"

People v James, __ NYS2d __ [available here]

During a warrant execution, a police officer observed "glassine baggies protruding from an open compartment of a shaving bag on a dresser." (James, __ NYS2d at __.) The shaving bag also had a zippered compartment that the officer proceeded to open, finding a "large quantity of crack cocaine". (Id. at __.) The trial court refused to suppress the cocaine, reasoning that the glassine baggies sticking out of the bag were in plain view and therefore the police were justified in inferring "'that the closed portion of the bag was a storage area for narcotics or more packaging material.'" (Id. at __.)

The Fourth Department reversed and stated the (seemingly) obvious: "the cocaine secreted in the zippered compartment of the shaving bag was not in plain view." (James, __ NYS2d at __.) Since the police deliberately unzipped the bag looking for contraband, "the discovery of the cocaine by unzipping the closed compartment was not 'inadvertent rather than anticipated'" and the drugs should have been suppressed. (Id. at __.) This is a common sense decision--while the "plain view" doctrine justifies seizing contraband the police are actually capable of seeing, it cannot be extended to justify further searching in hopes of finding items that are not in plain view (but are in proximity to visible contraband).