Monthly Archives: March 2019

Car Stop & Purse Search

Image result for vehicle search purse

In State v. Lee, the WA Court of Appeals held that a passenger’s consent to a search of her purse was not spoiled by police conduct during the traffic stop.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Defendant Ms. Lee was the front seat passenger in a car driven by Mr. Peterman. Detective Tilleson initiated a traffic stop for two traffic infractions. Detective Tilleson asked Peterman for his identification, learned his license was suspended, and arrested him for first degree driving while license suspended or revoked. Peterman consented to a search of the car.

Detective Tilleson told Ms. Lee to step out to facilitate his search of the car. She left her purse inside the car. Detective Tilleson ran Lee’s identification information to determine if she had a driver’s license so she could drive the car if it was not impounded. He learned Lee had a valid driver’s license and a conviction for possession of a controlled substance.

Lee began to pace back and forth near the car. At some point, Detective Fryberg directed Lee to sit on a nearby curb. During a conversation, Lee told Detective Tilleson the purse in the car was hers. Detective Tilleson asked Lee for permission to search her purse, telling her that he was asking “due to her prior drug conviction.” He also gave Lee warnings pursuant to State v. Ferrier that she was not obligated to consent and that she could revoke consent or limit the scope of the search at any time.

Lee consented to the search. When Detective Tilleson asked Lee if there was anything in her purse he should be concerned about, she said there was some heroin inside. Detectives found heroin and methamphetamine in her purse, advised Lee of her Miranda rights, and arrested her for possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or deliver.

Before trial, Lee moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the search of her purse. The trial court denied Lee’s motion to suppress the results of the search of her purse. The court found “the testimony of the detectives involved was more credible than the defendant’s testimony. The trial court also determined that all of Lee’s statements were voluntary and that none were coerced. Finally, the court concluded that Lee validly consented to a search of her purse.

At the bench trial, the judge found Lee guilty as charged. Lee appealed on arguments that she did not validly consent to the search of her purse because the detectives unlawfully seized her.

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether police exceeded the reasonable scope and duration of the traffic stop by asking Ms. Lee’s consent to search her purse while mentioning her prior drug conviction.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Court of Appeals stated that both the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article 1, section 7 of the Washington Constitution prohibit a warrantless search or seizure unless an exception applies. Voluntary consent is an exception to the warrant requirement.

“But an otherwise voluntary consent may be vitiated by an unlawful seizure,” reasoned the court of Appeals. “When analyzing a passenger’s consent to search the purse she left in
the car, we start with the traffic stop that led to the search.”

Here, the Court said the Fourth Amendment and WA Constitution both recognize an
investigative stop exception to the warrant requirement as set forth in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio. “The rationale of Terry applies by analogy to traffic stops applies by analogy to traffic stops,” said the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals explained that the proper scope of a Terry stop depends on the purpose of the stop, the amount of physical intrusion upon the suspect’s liberty, and the length of time the suspect is detained. A lawful Terry stop is limited in scope and duration to fulfilling the investigative purpose of the stop. “Once that purpose is fulfilled, the stop must end,” reasoned the Court.

Ultimately, the Court found that once the arrested driver consented to a search of the vehicle, it was not unreasonable for the detective to ask the passenger – here, Ms. Lee – if she consented to a search of the purse she left in the car. The detectives legitimately checked Lee’s identification to determine whether she was a licensed driver and could drive the car from the scene following Peterson’s arrest. And the search of the purse occurred roughly 18 minutes after the traffic stop began.

“We conclude Lee’s voluntary consent to search her purse was not vitiated by police conduct at the traffic stop. Specifically, under the totality of the circumstances, the police did not exceed the reasonable scope and duration of the traffic stop.”

In addition, the Court reasoned that the mention of Lee’s prior drug conviction must also be considered as part of the totality of the circumstances. “Here, there was a single mention of the conviction in passing,” said the Court. “There was no physical intrusion upon Lee.”

With that, the Court of Appeals concluded that the police did not exceed the reasonable scope or duration of the traffic stop under the totality of the circumstances. Therefore, Lee failed to establish that her voluntary consent to search her purse was vitiated by police conduct. Her conviction was affirmed.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime involving a questionable search and seizure by the police. Hiring competent and experienced defense counsel is the first and best step toward justice.

Many Washington Inmates Are Eligible for Release.

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Excellent article by  reporter Chad Sokol of the Spokesman Review describes how, on any given day, thousands of inmates in Washington jails are eligible to be released based on their likelihood to commit new crimes and show up to court before trial, according to a new report from the state auditor’s office.

Auditors found roughly one-third of the state’s jail inmates are candidates for pretrial services such as electronic monitoring, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and texts and phone calls that remind people of court dates.

The auditors also found the cost of incarceration significantly outweighs the cost of pretrial services, concluding such reforms could save $6 million to $12 million in taxpayer money each year while maintaining public safety.

The audit, published last week, makes no policy recommendations but reaffirms what criminal justice activists have been saying for years: The cash bail system disadvantages the poor and fuels recidivism.

“When defendants cannot afford to pay bail, they remain in jail until the trial. Keeping them in jail is costly to the taxpayers . . . Perhaps more importantly, extended jail time before trial can have significant consequences for defendants, as they become more likely to be convicted, more likely to receive a longer sentence, and less likely to gain and maintain future employment.” ~ WA State Auditor’s Office

According to reporter Sokol, the state auditors examined 2016 jail inmate data using the Public Safety Assessment, a risk-assessment tool created by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. About half of the 4,700 inmates deemed eligible for release were considered likely to reoffend without monitoring and services, while the rest were considered low-risk.

The auditors specifically examined data from Spokane and Yakima counties, which have made concerted efforts to reduce jail overcrowding and eliminate socioeconomic disparities. The auditors found that defendants given pretrial services reoffended at slightly lower rates than those released on bail, but in Spokane County the difference was not statistically significant.

Defendants released through pretrial services in Spokane County, however, were much more likely to show up to court than those released on bail, the auditors found. Failure-to-appear rates for the two groups were 38 percent and 53 percent, respectively.

The audit accompanies another report, published in February by Washington’s Pretrial Reform Task Force, which makes a range of policy recommendations aimed at safeguarding the presumption of innocence enshrined in the Constitution.

“The use of a pretrial services department can be really helpful in assisting people getting to court or remembering court dates,” said Municipal Court Judge Mary Logan, who co-authored the task force report with state Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu and King County Superior Court Judge Sean O’Donnell.

Logan noted bail is “not supposed to be a punitive measure,” and with few exceptions, court rules require defendants be released before trial. The task force concluded the government – not defendants – should bear the cost of pretrial services.

“Accused persons cannot and should not be required to incur additional costs or debts as a result of their participation in pretrial services,” they wrote.

Spokane County’s criminal justice administrator, Maggie Yates, said the task force report validates the county’s reform efforts funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

My opinion? This is good news. Releasing individuals when it’s appropriate not only makes sense legally, but ethically and financially as well. Individuals facing charges may continue to support their families, pursue and maintain employment, and seek out mental health or substance use treatment while navigating court proceedings. The resulting stability only makes our community safer.

Please contact my office if you have a friend or family member who is incarcerated and facing criminal charges. Under CrR 3.2, judges have options to lower bail or release defendants on their personal recognizance while the charges are pending.