An appeals court rules a medical emergency trumped the need for a warrant in the search of a Beverly restaurant owner's purse that turned up illegal drugs.
The state Appeals Court has ruled that a warrantless search of a Beverly restaurant owner’s pocketbook after a medical call to the restaurant was legal.
The decision reverses a district court judge’s ruling that said the search, which turned up illegal drugs in the pocketbook, was improper.The case will now go back to district court for adjudication.
The case revolves around a May 24, 2006 medical call to the Something Different restaurant at Beverly Airport. Police Officer Jim McGinnis went there for the report of an unconscious woman, who was McCarthy. He found her thrashing on the floor, slurring her words and unable to communicate well when he arrived. McGinnis called for EMTs.
When the EMTs arrived they put McCarthy into a chair and said she is seemed as though she were suffering from a drug overdose. They asked McGinnis if he knew what she had taken. He didn’t.
McGinnis saw a woman’s handbag several feet from McCarthy and searched the bags for drugs to help EMTs treat McCarthy.
Inside he found two marijuana cigarettes and two amber-colored vials with cocaine inside. McGinnis showed the drugs to the EMTs and he seized its contents and she was later charged with drug possession.
McCarthy’s attorney, Jennifer Koiles, had argued the evidence from McGinnis’ search should be suppressed.
Salem District Court Judge Dunbar Livingston agreed, saying the drug evidence seized during the search of her handbag couldn’t be used against McCarthy.Prosecutor Kenneth Steinfield appealed that decision.
The Appeals Court justices, in a ruling issued on April 24, said there’s no dispute that McGinnis searched the handbag without probable cause and it would have typically been considered an invalid, warrantless search.
But the U.S. Constitution and state Declaration of Rights allows searches in an emergency to protect life or property.
The justices said they looked at the situation in the context of what McGinnis saw “and not with 20-20 hindsight.”
“In such medical emergencies, time is of the essence, requiring swift action,” the justices wrote in the decision, concluding McGinnis’ actions were allowable.
Koiles said she believed Livingston had all the facts of the case in front of him and made the correct decision.
“We’re both incredible disappointed,” Koiles said.