While state and federal law restrict a police officer’s ability to conduct a warrantless search, courts allow officers to perform a limited search in certain situations. One of these situations involves after an officer makes a lawful arrest. Thus, it is common after a police officer arrests someone that the officer searches the person to make sure that they are not armed. However, here too, there are limitations on the permissible scope of a search. In a recent opinion, a New York appellate court issued an opinion discussing the allowable scope of a search incident to a valid arrest.
The court’s opinion is brief; however, the case arose after the defendant was arrested on 17 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the first degree. While the facts surrounding the defendant’s arrest were not provided, the defendant did not contest their arrest. Instead, the defendant argued that the arresting officer exceeded the scope of a search incident to her arrest.
Apparently, the officer found an envelope in the defendant’s pocket at the time of her arrest. The officer then “peeked” inside the envelope to find evidence that the prosecution intended to use against her at trial. The testimony was not clear whether the envelope was partially open. However, to the court, it didn’t matter.