A woman convicted of attempted drug possession has been exonerated because the Utah Court of Appeals said police had no right to search a roll of paper towels where cocaine was found.

A three-judge panel, in a unanimous decision released Monday, said Salt Lake City police officers violated the constitutional rights of Charlene Anne Holmes. The court said police made the search based only on the suspicious way Holmes stuffed the roll between the seat of the car in which she was sitting and the console.Police arrested Holmes on Sept. 17, 1987, after stopping a car in which she was riding. Police suspected her of prostitution and had watched her walk down State Street, talk to several drivers and get in the car.

After stopping the car, one police officer talked with the driver while another officer stood on the passenger side of the car and watched Holmes put her purse on the floor, take out a roll of paper towels and stuff it between the seat and the console.

The officer opened the door, asked for the roll, unrolled it and found a spoon and two syringes containing cocaine.

The decision, written by Judge Russell W. Bench, said police had a right to stop the car but had no right to search the roll without a warrant. The decision reversed a lower-court ruling that the evidence was admissible in the trial.

"All we have in this case is defendant's attempt to stuff the roll of paper towels down between the car seat and the console," Bench wrote. "There is nothing else to suggest that the item was associated with criminal activity, not even a subtle connection

between the item and the suspected prostitution deal."