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Standing in search & seizure

The police see a bunch of guys engaged in activities consistent with selling drugs, round them up, and find a set of car keys on the ground.  They ask who the keys belong to; nobody fesses up.  They use them to open a nearby car, and find drugs and a number of personal items belonging to one of the suspects.  Can the suspect argue that the search was illegal?

Nope, says the 8th District last week in State v. Middleton.  Whether the search was proper under the 4th Amendment is actually immaterial, because the defendant, by denying that the property was his, lacked standing to assert the search's illegality.  Actually, there's a long line of decisions which support that result, and there's a good review of them in this 2004 11th District decision.  The general rule is that one who denies possession of property has, in essence, abandoned it, and lacks the possessory interest sufficient to invoke 4th Amendment protection.

There's one notable exception to that:  where the denial is basically compelled by the officer's prior search of the item.  It's difficult to expect a person to admit to ownership of property that's going to wind up getting him arrested.  This US 10th Circuit decision is a good one to have on that score. 

By the way, in light of my comment on Monday on your suggestions about this site, if one of them was "have shorter posts," you'll get your wish this week.  I've got a lot of stuff going on, and so it'll be short and sweet.  Well, sweet we're not sure, but short, definitely.

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