The emergency-aid exception of the Fourth Amendment only allows police and paramedics to search the person and personal belongings of the one in need of medical assistance, the Utah Court of Appeals has ruled.

The court said the emergency-aid exception to the constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure does not allow officers to search others present at an emergency scene. The ruling comes in a case in which Salt Lake police officers searched a man who was present when his friend overdosed on drugs and found drugs on the friend.

"Expanding the scope of the exception to allow searches of third parties in this way will logically lead to unconstitutional searches of all persons present at the scene of an apparent drug overdose or other similar medical emergency," wrote Justice Russell W. Bench.

The opinion basically destroys the case against Steven Davidson, who was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.

On April 11, 1998, officers were dispatched to a possible heroin overdose at a home on Third Avenue. When they arrived they found Davidson present with the unconscious victim. However, Davidson would not give his name or address to officers and would not provide any information about the type of drug the victim had taken. Hoping to identify the drug used by the unconscious victim, officers arrested and searched Davidson and located a marijuana pipe and marijuana.

The court, in finding the search illegal, said other than hoping to identify the drugs used by the victim there was no other probable cause to search Davidson. There was also no reason for officers to believe they would find on Davidson the drug used by the victim.

Appeals courts have consistently found that the emergency-aid exception is limited to the search of the individual with the medical need, and no one else, the court ruled.

"The emergency situation was the medical condition of the man who was unconscious and thought to have overdosed on some substance," wrote Presiding Justice Pamela T. Greenwood.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Michael J. Wilkins said expanding the emergency-aid exception to a third party is warranted when the person is "immediately connected with the person in need of emergency assistance." The officer's main concern was to assist the unconscious man and Davidson was only searched after he refused reasonable requests to assist the victim, the justice wrote.

"I would not want to deter law enforcement officers from rendering aid to those persons in emergency situations," Wilkins wrote.

Wilkins wrote his opinion prior to being sworn in as a Utah Supreme Court justice.