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It was Illegal for the Police to Take Pills from a Woman’s Purse

In the case of Melva Gay versus the State of Florida, a police officer stopped a car for failing to come to a complete stop at at stop sign.  Melva Gay was a passenger in that car.  The officer asked the driver to get out of the car and then asked him if he could search the car for illegal drugs.  The driver said he could.  The officer then asked Melva Gay to also get out of the car.  She did so but left her purse in the car.  While searching her purse, the officer found a small metal pill box containing some pills.  Because the officer did not know what the pills were, he took them to his patrol car where he learned, through the website Drugs.com, that the pills were ritalin and tramadol.  Ms. Gay was arrested and later charged with committing the crimes of possession of a controlled substance (ritalin), possession of drug paraphernalia (the metal pill container), and possession of a prescription drug without a prescription (tramadol).

Ms. Gay filed a motion with the court in which she argued that it was illegal for the officer to take the pills and pill container from her purse.  The court of appeals agreed with her that what the officer did was illegal because:

1.  Nothing about the pills or pill box gave the officer reason to believe that Ms. Gay had committed a crime.

2.  The officer did not know what the pills were before taking them to his patrol car and checking them out on Drugs.com.

3.  The officer did not testify that in his experience people sometimes carry illegally possessed prescription drugs in a pill box like the one Ms. Gay had in her purse.

4.  The mere observation of pills in a pill container is as consistent with noncriminal activity as with criminal activity.

Because the officer’s actions were illegal, the court of appeals reversed Ms. Gay’s conviction and sentence.