Bag searched illegally, court rules

April 30, 1991

An article reporting a Court of Appeals decision in the April 30 editions of The Sun incorrectly stated that Hagerstown police had a warrant to search an apartment where drugs were discovered in a visitor's bag. In fact, police did not have a search warrant but obtained permission from the tenant to make the search.

The Court of Appeals overturned yesterday the drug conviction of a Florida man whose bag contained more than $78,000 worth of crack cocaine because Hagerstown police illegally searched the bag after he left it in an apartment.

The divided court ruled that Leonard Bernard Owens of Fort Pierce, Fla., had a constitutional right to expect that the bag's contents were private, even though police had a warrant to search the apartment where it was found.


Mr. Owens, who made frequent trips from Florida to Hagerstown, often stayed in the apartment of a friend, according to court documents. On a trip in January 1988 he left a nylon bag at the woman's apartment in January 1988. City police later arrived with warrants to search the apartment.

In the course of their search, policerooted through his bag, finding plastic bags of crack stuffed in socks and $1,880 in cash.

In an opinion by Judge Charles E. Orth Jr., the four-judge majority held that the officers needed a separate warrant to search the bag because it is "a common repository for one's personal effects, and, therefore, is inevitably associated with the expectation of privacy."

To safeguard the Fourth Amendment's guarantees against unreasonable searches, "it is sometimes necessary that the scoundrel go free," Judge Orth concluded.

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