Category Archives: Terry Stop

“Furtive Movements”

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In State v. Weyand, the WA Supreme Court held that officers lacked sufficient facts to justify a Terry stop of the defendant. Walking quickly while looking up and down the street at 2:40 a.m. is an innocuous act, which cannot justify intruding into people’s private affairs.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On December 22, 2012, at 2:40 in the morning, Corporal Bryce Henry saw a car parked near 95 Cullum Avenue in Richland, Washington, that had not been there 20 minutes prior. The area is known for extensive drug history. Corporal Henry did not recognize the car and ran the license plate through an I/LEADS (Intergraph Law Enforcement Automated System) database. However, that license plate search revealed nothing of consequence about the vehicle or its registered owner.

After parking his car, Corporal Henry saw Weyand and another male leave 95 Cullum. As the men walked quickly toward the car, they looked up and down the street. The driver looked around once more before getting into the car. Weyand got into the passenger seat. Based on these observations and Corporal Henry’s knowledge of the extensive drug history at 95 Cullum, he conducted a Terry stop of the car.

After stopping Weyand, Corporal Henry observed that Weyand’s eyes were red and glassy and his pupils were constricted. Corporal Henry is a drug recognition expert and believed that Weyand was under the influence of a narcotic. When Corporal Henry ran Weyand’ s name, he discovered an outstanding warrant and arrested Weyand. Corporal Henry searched Weyand incident to that arrest and found a capped syringe. Corporal Henry advised Weyand of his Miranda3 rights, and Weyand admitted that the substance in the syringe was heroin that he had bought from a resident inside 95 Cullum.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The State charged Weyand with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Weyand moved to suppress all evidence and statements under Criminal Rules (CrR) 3.5 and 3.6 and to dismiss the case against him. Weyand argued that the officer did not have sufficient individualized suspicion to conduct the investigatory stop.

After the hearing, the court concluded that the seizure was a lawful investigative stop. According to the court, Corporal Henry had reasonable suspicion to believe that Weyand was involved in criminal activity. The court found Weyand’s case distinct from State v. Doughty, because in this case there was actual evidence of drug activity at, as well as known drug users frequenting, 95 Cullum.

The court additionally found that Weyand knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights; thus, all post-Miranda statements were admissible at trial. Weyand waived his right to a jury trial and agreed to submit the case to a stipulated facts trial. Finding that Weyand possessed a loaded syringe that contained heroin, the court found Weyand guilty of unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

Weyand appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. It reasoned that the totality of the circumstances, coupled with the officer’s training and experience, showed that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that justified the stop. Those circumstances included “the long history of drug activity at 95 Cullum, the time of night, the 20 minute stop at the house, the brisk walking, and the glances up and down the street.”

LEGAL ISSUE

Whether the specific facts that led to the Terry stop would lead an objective person to form a reasonable suspicion that Weyand was engaged in criminal activity.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court held that officers lacked sufficient facts to justify a Terry stop of the defendant. It reasoned that under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution, an officer generally may not seize a person without a warrant. There are, however, a few carefully drawn exceptions to the warrant requirement. The State bears the burden to show that a warrantless search or seizure falls into one of the narrowly drawn exceptions.

One of these exceptions is the Terry investigative stop. The Terry exception allows an officer to briefly detain a person for questioning, without a warrant, if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person is or is about to be engaged in criminal activity. An officer may also briefly frisk the person if the officer has reasonable safety concerns to justify the protective frisk.

The Court found that the totality of the circumstances did not justify a warrantless seizure. It reasoned that in order to conduct a valid Terry stop, an officer must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity based on specific and articulable facts known to the officer at the inception of the stop. To evaluate the reasonableness of the officer’s suspicion, Courts look at the totality of the circumstances known to the officer. The totality of circumstances includes the officer’s training and experience, the location of the stop, the conduct of the person detained, the purpose of the stop, and the amount of physical intrusion on the suspect’s liberty. The suspicion must be individualized to the person being stopped.

“Here, the trial court’s decision rested primarily on evidence that 95 Cullum was a
known drug location,” said the Court. “However, Corporal Henry did not observe current activity that would lead a reasonable observer to believe that criminal activity was taking place or about to take place in the residence.”

Furtive Movements

Also, the Court reasoned that reliance on ‘furtive movements’ as the basis for a Terry stop can be problematic. “Case law has not precisely defined such movements, and courts too often accept the label without questioning the breadth of the term.” It explained that ‘furtive movements’ are vague generalizations of what might be perceived as suspicious activity which does not provide a legal ( or factual) basis for a Terry stop.”

The Court quoted Judge Richard Posner in recognizing that “furtive movements,” standing alone, are a vague and unreliable indicator of criminality:

“Whether you stand still or move, drive above, below, or at the speed limit, you will be described by the police as acting suspiciously should they wish to stop or arrest you. Such subjective, promiscuous appeals to an ineffable intuition should not be credited.”

With that, the WA Supreme Court reasoned that simply labeling a suspect’s action a “furtive movement,” without explaining how it gives rise to a reasonable and articulable suspicion, is not sufficient to justify a Terry stop. Furthermore, reasoned the Court, police cannot justify a suspicion of criminal conduct based only on a person’s location in a high crime area:

“It is beyond dispute that many members of our society live, work, and spend their waking hours in high crime areas, a description that can be applied to parts of many of our cities. That does not automatically make those individuals proper subjects for criminal investigation.”

Consequently, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and hold that walking quickly and looking around, even after leaving a house with extensive drug history at 2:40 in the morning, is not enough to create a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity justifying a Terry stop.

My opinion? Excellent decision. I’m very impressed the Court addressed the term “furtive movements” and put it in perspective. Law enforcement officers regularly use this catch-phrase to describe suspicious behavior allowing them stop/search/seize people. Although officer safety is a primary concern and a very good reason to search people who are already in police custody and making “furtive movements” in the presence of officers, it cannot be a basis for stopping and searching people who are simply going about their business walking down the street. Great decision.

Downtown Bellingham’s Loitering Problem: What’s the Answer?

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Excellent article by Kie Relyea of the Bellingham Herald discusses the problem of increased loitering in downtown Bellingham.

According to Relyea, downtown business owners are telling city leaders they need help. They’re tired of people sleeping in the doorways of their buildings, lighting fires in their alcoves, and having to clean up after those who leave behind stolen bicycles, trash, feces and drug paraphernalia such as used needles.

That, and a rise in antisocial behavior and unseemly loitering, is making some people who visit and work in downtown Bellingham feel unsafe.

Relyea reports that Bellingham residents reported feeling less safe when walking alone downtown during the day and night than previously, according to a recent survey of residents’ views about issues facing the community. The March 12 deadly shooting in downtown also raised a great deal of concern about safety downtown.

THE STATISTICS

According to Relyea, Bellingham Police Department statistics showed a nearly 2.5 percent increase in overall incidents from 2013 and 2016 in downtown – going from 3,688 to 3,778 responses that were both criminal and non-criminal in nature. For 2016 alone, 53 percent of the incidents police responded to in the downtown were non-criminal in nature.

Criminal incidents would be arrestable offenses such as assaults, robbery and rape. Non-criminal could include responding to people with mental problems, someone violating the sitting and lying ordinance, or someone who was drunk.

 

SOLUTIONS

Relyea reports that business owners want to help those who want to be helped. This means opening a bigger shelter for the homeless, getting them into housing, finding them jobs and helping people struggling with mental health and addiction.

Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said prevention was important to her, and the city spends up to $450,000 a year toward such efforts, including for the Homeless Outreach Team, community paramedic and intensive case management.

An upcoming project called Whatcom GRACE (for Ground-Level Response and Coordinated Engagement) also could help, by reaching out to those being called “familiar faces” – people who tend to fall through the cracks over and over, and who have a number of needs such as housing, behavioral health and substance abuse. They’re also the ones who come into contact with a number of organizations.

Apparently, police believe it’s a safety issue to not have people blocking sidewalks where there are pedestrians. However, the ACLU and homeless advocates said such laws target people who are visibly poor and homeless, and could be unconstitutional.

Bellingham Council member Michael Lilliquist gave his perspective:

“For some people, including myself, restricting and limiting people from sitting down is not a well-aimed tool. For one thing, sitting down is sometimes a perfectly fine and normal thing to do. In addition, our police tell me it is difficult to enforce and easy to avoid,” he said.

“For example, people can move just a little distance, such as where the alleyway or a driveway cuts through, and then they are technically not in violation because it is not a ‘sidewalk’ under the definition,” Lilliquist added. “It seems like a lot of work, and some hostility, to get at something that is not the heart of the problem.”

My opinion?

First, don’t criminalize homelessness. That’s not the answer, and only leads to violating people’s constitutional rights. Second, if anything, divert more resources to addressing mental health and substance abuse.

Distracted Driving Bill Passes House

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The Washington state House approved Senate Bill 5289, which would prohibit holding an electronic device — including phones, tablets and other electronic devices — while driving, including while in traffic or waiting for a traffic light to change. Fines for a first offense would total $136 while second and subsequent offenses could cost drivers up to $235.

The measure passed the Democratic-controlled chamber on a 63-35 vote. It now heads back to the Republican-controlled Senate for agreement on changes made in the House.

Sponsors & Objectors.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center, told the Associated Press before the vote that she agrees with the House amendments and wants to get the bill to the governor’s desk this session. Rivers said she looks forward to being able to drive down the road at night and not see drivers’ faces lit up in blue from having their focus be on their phones instead of the road.

Democratic Rep. Jessyn Farrell of Seattle, who also sponsors a similar bill in the House, spoke in favor of the bill during the floor debate saying “this bill is really about safety and is about our kids who are watching every single thing that we do,” said Farrell.

However, Rep. Dave Hayes of Camano Island said the bill “goes a little too far.” Nevertheless, the Republican said he was pleased to see the House cleaned up the bill’s language by making the exemptions clearer.

Defenses & Exceptions.

The measure would allow “the minimal use of a finger” to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of a personal electronic device while driving. Also, exceptions to the bill would include using an electronic device to contact emergency services, to operate an emergency vehicle, to allow transit system dispatch services to communicate time-sensitive messages and to allow any activities that are federally authorized for commercial motor vehicle drivers. Operating an amateur radio station and two-way or citizens band radio services are also exceptions in the proposal.

If signed into law this year, the measure would go into effect January 2019.

Holiday Drinking In The U.S.

Interesting article by Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post discusses how data on total monthly alcohol sales in the United States carries a time-tested seasonal trend: the spikes in December of each year.

Clearly, the holidays are traditionally a time for boozing it up.

For example, the Department of Health and Human Services recently updated the official federal statistics on the percent of state residents ages 12 and older who drink at least once a month. Also, Ingraham’s article discusses how various direct and indirect measures of alcohol consumption, including breathalyzer data, Web searches for hangover relief and alcohol-related traffic deaths all suggest that peak American drinking happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

THE NORTHEAST

New England is home to the nation’s heaviest drinkers – New Hampshire, where about 64 percent of residents age of 12 or older drink monthly, is tops in the country. Vermont, Maine and Connecticut also come in at drinking rates above 60 percent. Hard-drinking cheeseheads in Wisconsin see to it that their home is the only Midwestern state in the top tier of American drinkers.

THE NORTHWEST

Ingraham discusses how the next tier of heavy drinking states are all in the northern part of the country. Some researchers posit that there may be a relationship between heavy drinking and latitude. At the country level, alcohol consumption tends to increase the farther you get away from the equator. This could be a function of the potential for boredom and depression during winter months when the nights are long and the days are short. For a prime example of this, see recent stories involving alcohol and misconduct among people who live in Antarctica.

RELIGIOUS STATES

Ingraham discusses other cultural factors affect some States’ attitudes about drinking. On the map above, take a look at Utah and particularly Idaho. They’re in the bottom tier of the states for drinking frequency. Utah, where only 31 percent of adults drink in a given month, comes in dead last. This is almost certainly because of the large Mormon populations in those states — 58 percent of Utahans are Mormon, as are 24 percent of people in Idaho. Mormonism generally prohibits the use of alcohol and other drugs.

There’s likely a similar religious influence in places Alabama, Mississippi and the other Southern states where drinking is low. Those states have large evangelical Christian populations, many of whom are abstainers.

HOLIDAY DUI PATROLS IN WASHINGTON STATE

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Coincidentally, the Washington State Patrol announced its increased Holiday DUI Patrol campaign of “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over.” Our State Troopers are extremely proactive in reaching their Target Zero goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2030.

Also, our local police and sheriff’s offices are working very hard responding to incidents of domestic violence, burglary, assault and other criminal incidents associated with holiday celebrations.

SEEK COMPETENT LEGAL REPRESENTATION IF YOU FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES THIS HOLIDAY SEASON.

For many, the holiday season is a joyous time when family and friends get together and celebrate. Naturally, our holiday merriment could involve the libations of alcohol and/or legal (and illegal) drugs.

We must enjoy the holidays safely and responsibly. Unfortunately, incidents of domestic violence, DUI, and other criminal behaviors – intentional or otherwise – can dampen our holiday festivities.

It’s never desirable to face criminal charges which could negatively affect your life for years to come. However, if you, friends or family find themselves in situations involving law enforcement, jail and/or criminal charges then contact the Law Office of Alexander Ransom as soon as possible.  I staunchly defends my clients’ constitutional rights to a fair trial, just proceedings and the suppression of evidence involving unlawful searches, seizures and self-incrimination. My practice involves saving people’s careers and reuniting families by seeking reductions and dismissals of criminal charges when appropriate.

Happy holidays!

-Alex Ransom, Esq.

“Common Authority” Vehicle Searches

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In State v. Vanhollebeke, the WA Court of Appeals Division III decided a vehicle owner’s consent to search overrode the driver’s express objections.

On the night of November 10, 2014, Sergeant Garza pulled the truck over that was facing the wrong way on a one-way street. Sergeant Garza got out of his patrol car and approached the truck. The defendant Mr. Vanhollebeke got out of the truck and started walking toward Sergeant Garza. Sergeant Garza ordered Mr. Vanhollebeke to get back in the truck. Mr. Vanhollebeke then said he had locked himself out of the truck. This unusual behavior made Sergeant Garza suspicious.

Dispatch advised that Mr. Vanhollebeke’s license was suspended. Dispatch also advised that Mr. Vanhollebeke was not the registered owner of the truck, and that the truck belonged to a man named Bill Casteel. Sergeant Garza’s plan at this point was to cite Mr. Vanhollebeke for driving with a suspended license and then release him.

However, another police officer noticed a glass pipe with a white crystal substance on it sitting in plain view near the dashboard, which he believed was drug paraphernalia. Also, the truck’s steering column was “punched,” which indicated the truck was stolen. The officers did not release Mr. Vanhollebeke and kept him in their custody.

The officers asked for permission to search the truck. Mr. Vanhollebeke refused. Sergeant Garza contacted Mr. Casteel, the actual owner of the truck, at Casteel’s home. Mr. Casteel told Deputy Barnes that Mr. Vanhollebeke had permission to use the truck. Casteel also gave police permission to search his truck and gave Deputy Barnes a key to it.

Deputy Barnes returned directly to the scene. He used the key to open the truck and began to search it. He looked under the driver’s seat and saw a revolver. The glass pipe tested positive for methamphetamine. The officers confirmed through dispatch that Mr. Vanhollebeke had a prior felony conviction.

The State charged Mr. Vanhollebeke with first degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Mr. Vanhollebeke argued a CrR 3.6 motion to suppress the physical evidence on the grounds that he had refused to give the officers consent to search the truck and also that the stop’s length and scope were unreasonable. However, the trial court admitted the evidence and denied Mr. Vanhollebeke’s motion to suppress. The jury convicted Mr. Vanhollebeke.

Vanhollebeke appealed on the issue of whether Mr. Casteel’s consent overrode Mr. Vanhollebeke’s express objection to search.

The Court of Appeals upheld the search. It reasoned that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees people the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Warrantless searches are generally illegal unless they fall within one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. However, one exception is consent to search by a person with authority over the place or thing to be searched. This exception includes consent given by a third person, other than the defendant.

The court further reasoned that to grant valid consent, the third party must have common authority over the place or thing to be searched. The court explained that common authority does not mean that the third party has a mere property interest in the place or thing being searched. Rather, to establish lawful consent by virtue of common authority, (1) a consenting party must be able to permit the search in his own right, and (2) it must be reasonable to find that the defendant has assumed the risk that a co-occupant might permit a search.

The court decided Mr. Vanhollebeke’s right to use the truck was dependent on the owner’s unrevoked permission:

“Here, Mr. Vanhollebeke had the actual right to exclude all others from the truck except for Mr. Casteel. For this reason, Mr. Vanhollebeke did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy if Mr. Casteel wanted to search his own truck or allow another person to do so.”

With that, the Court concluded Mr. Casteel’s consent to search his truck overrode Mr. Vanhollebeke’s objection. Therefore, the search did not violate Mr. Vanhollebeke’s reasonable expectation of privacy and the trial court did not err in denying Mr. Vanhollebeke’s CrR 3.6 motion to suppress. Vanhollebeke’s conviction was affirmed.

My opinion? Common authority search issues don’t happen very often in criminal defense. But when they do, it’s imperative to hire competent criminal defense who can leverage a strong motion to suppress the evidence and/or divide the “common parties” to the search. Perhaps the greatest lesson to learn is to simply avoid transporting illegal contraband in plain view within borrowed vehicles.

“Stop & Frisk” of Friends

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In State v. Flores, the WA Supreme Court  decided that police officers may seize a defendant’s companions if officers can articulate a reason based specifically on safety concerns for the officers, the arrestee, his or her companions, or other citizens.
 On November 2, 2013, an anonymous source reported to the Moses Lake Police Department that Giovanni Powell pointed a gun at someone’s head. Officer Kyle McCain was first to arrive at the scene of the incident. Officer McCain was familiar with Powell, and was soon updated that Powell had an arrest warrant.
 Officer McCain arrived at the reported address. He observed Powell, whom he recognized, and another person (later identified as Flores) walking down the street together. McCain did not recognize Flores and did not have any reason to suspect Flores of criminal activity.
 McCain parked across the street from Powell and Flores, got out of his car, drew his side arm, held it pointed at the ground, and ordered Powell to stop. As this was occurring, other officers arrived. Mr. Flores told officer he possessed a firearm in his pants. It was removed and secured. The State charged Flores with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the First Degree.
 Flores brought a CrR 3.6 motion to suppress all evidence of the gun. The judge granted the motion, which ultimately resulted in dismissal of the charges. The State appealed, and Division Three of the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. The State appealed again to the WA Supreme Court.
 The court addressed the issue of whether it violates article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution for an officer to seize the nonarrested companion of an arrestee to secure the scene of an arrest.
 The court reasoned that an individual is seized when, under the circumstances, an individual’s freedom of movement is restrained and the individual would not believe he is free to leave or decline a request due to an officer’s use of force or display of authority. State v. Rankin. This determination is made by objectively looking at the actions of the law enforcement officer.
 The court reasoned that an officer does not meet the standard required for a Terry stop in cases like this: “Terry must be met if the purpose of the officer’s interaction with the passenger is investigatory. For purposes of controlling the scene of the traffic stop and to preserve safety there, we apply the standard of an objective rationale.”
 Consequently, the Court gave factors from the WA Court of Appeals Div. III  decision State v. Mendes for determining what “an objective rationale” means when it comes to seizing a defendant’s companions. These Mendes factors include (but are not limited to) the arrest, the number of officers, the number of people present at the scene of the arrest, the time of day, the behavior of those present at the scene, the location of the arrest, the presence or suspected presence of a weapon, the officer’s knowledge of the arrestee or the companions and potentially affected citizens.
 “This is not an exhaustive list, and no one factor by itself justifies an officer’s seizure of non-arrested companions,” said the Court. “When determining whether there is an objective rationale, the court should look at all the circumstances present at the scene of the arrest.”
 Applying this “Objective Rationale Test,” the Court found that Officer McCain justifiably seized Mr. Flores to secure the scene of Powell ‘s arrest, and that the Officer’s actions were justified. The WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, found the seizure was lawful and ruled the evidence of the gun should not have been suppressed.
 Justice McCloud dissented under arguments that officers must comply with Terry at the scene of an arrest, and that the new “Objective Rationale Test” adopted by the Court effectively circumvented time-tested case law:
“This holding creates a new exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, and we don’t have the power to create it–only the (United States) Supreme Court does. It’s also a new exception to our court’s consistent statements, for decades, that article I, section 7 provides more protection for individual privacy rights than the Fourth Amendment.”
 My opinion? The officers would have eventually found Mr. Flores’s firearm anyway if they followed protocol under a Terry stop. But they didn’t. Therefore, and similar to Justice McCloud, I’m concerned whether the “Objective Rationale Test” was wrongfully created to become another exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.

Utah v. Strieff: High Court Upholds Unlawful Search

In Utah v. Strieff, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-3 vote that an illegal police stop and resulting drug arrest did not ultimately violate the Fourth Amendment because the officer later discovered the defendant had an outstanding traffic warrant.

The case began when a police officer stopped Edward Strieff on the street and ran his identification. The state of Utah concedes that this was an illegal police stop. However, when the Officer ran Strieff’s identification, it was discovered that Strieff had an outstanding traffic warrant. The officer then arrested him, searched him, and discovered drugs in his pockets. Strieff argued that the drugs should have been inadmissible under the Fourth Amendment because they are the fruits of an illegal search.

In an opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with Mr. Strieff, ruled for the State, and found there was no flagrant police misconduct:

“The evidence Officer Fackrell seized as part of his search incident to arrest is admissible because his discovery of the arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized from Strieff incident to arrest.”

Furthermore, the Court also noted that although the Exclusionary Rule prohibits the admissibility of evidence which is illegally seized in violation of people’s Constitutional rights, there are several exceptions to the rule. One exception is the Attenuation Doctrine, which admits typically inadmissible evidence when the connection between unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is sufficiently remote or has been interrupted by some intervening circumstance.

The Court reasoned that the Attenuation Doctrine therefore applies here, where the intervening circumstance is the discovery of a valid, pre-existing, and untainted arrest warrant: “Assuming, without deciding, that Officer Fackrell lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Strieff initially, the discovery of that arrest warrant attenuated the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence seized from Strieff incident to his arrest.” Justice Thomas’s majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito.

Writing in dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor blasted the majority for excusing police misconduct and undermining the Fourth Amendment:

“The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic war rants—even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent.”

“This case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

My opinion? I agree with Sotomayor’s dissent. Utah v. Strieff is a terrible blow to every American’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unlawful and intrusive government searches. Period.

That aside, will Utah v. Strieff negatively impact the constitutional rights of citizens in Washington State? Probably not. We already have time-tested precedents like State v. Doughty, State v. Afana and State v. Winterstein. All of these WA Supreme Court cases – and more – are recent opinions that are factually similar to Utah v. Streiff. Fortunately, these cases have already ruled against police officers violating people’s Constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure.

As a colleague of mine said, “The rest of the country may be SOL, but Utah v. Strieff should not survive here in WA State.”

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Refusing Field Sobriety Test is Admissible as “Consciousness of Guilt.”

In State v. Mecham, the WA Supreme Court decided that Prosecutors in DUI trials may admit evidence that a defendant is declining field sobriety tests as evidence of consciousness of guilt.

FACTS

In 2011, Officer Campbell made a traffic stop of defendant Mark Tracy Mecham. Although Mecham’s driving showed no signs of intoxication, Mecham smelled of intoxicants and had slurred speech. The officer asked Mecham to perform voluntary field sobriety tests (FSTs), which would have involved Officer Campbell’s observing Mecham’s eye movements and ability to walk a straight line and stand on one leg. Mecham refused.

At trial, Mecham moved to suppress his refusal to perform the FSTs. Typically, trial courts grant this defense motion. In Mecham’s case, however, the trial court denied his motion and ruled that even if FSTs were a search, probable cause supported the search. Mecham’s refusal was admitted to the jury as evidence to support the Prosecutor’s theory that Mecham exhibited “Consciousness of Guilt.” The jury found Mecham guilty of DUI.

Eventually, Mecham’s case was appealed to the WA Supreme Court. He argued that his right to be free from unreasonable searches was violated when the trial court admitted evidence of his refusal to undergo FSTs.

THE DECISION

Unfortunately for Mecham, the WA Supreme Court disagreed and upheld his DUI conviction. In a deeply divided decision, the Court held that while a FST is a seizure, it is not a search either under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution or under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The State may, therefore, offer evidence of a defendant’s refusal to perform FSTs. Field sobriety tests may only be administered when the initial traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion and the officer has reasonable suspicion that the defendant was driving under the influence.

The lead majority opinion was authored by Justice Wiggins. Justice Fairhurst concurred in part and dissented in part. Justice Fairhurst would prohibit the administration of FSTs once the defendant is already under formal arrest for an offense other then DUI. Justice Johnson dissented on the grounds that the defendant had been told by the officer who administered the FSTs that they were voluntary. Finally, Justice Gordon McCloud dissented on the grounds that FSTs are searches.

My opinion?

I agree with Justice McCloud’s dissent. Here’s a portion:

“An FST can reveal information about a person’s body and medical history that are unquestionably private in nature. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in addition to possible inebriation, FSTs can reveal a head injury, neurological disorder, brain tumors or damage, and some inner ear diseases. These conditions are not necessarily observable in the subject’s normal public behavior; they may well be revealed only by the special maneuvers the subject is directed to perform during the FST. Indeed, if an FST did not reveal information beyond what is readily observable by the general public, there would be no need to administer it in the first place. I therefore conclude that FSTs are searches under article I, section 7 of our state constitution.”

FSTs are a search. Period. Clearly, Officers who ask citizens to performs FSTs are seeking evidence of DUI. Because FSTs are a search, Mecham had a constitutional right to refuse to perform them unless (1) the officers had a warrant, or (2) an exception to the warrant requirement applied. Here, the Officer neither possessed or obtained a warrant for a blood test. Nor did the Officer even attempt to get a warrant.

Even more concerning, Prosecutors now have free reign to spin a citizen’s refusal of FSTs as “consciousness of guilt.” That’s unfair. Indeed, there’s a lot of debate in criminal law on whether FSTs accurately and/or scientifically indicate whether someone is DUI. These tests are, quite simply, balancing and memory tests administered under extremely uncomfortable and stressful conditions. These tests – which more of less reflect bad balance, lack of memory and preexisting health issues – simply do not accurately depict intoxication.

Bellingham Police Department Body Cameras Now Mandatory

A news article by Samantha Wohlfiel from of the Bellingham Herald reports that starting this July, Bellingham Police Department (BPD) will require all uniformed patrol officers to wear and use body cameras.

In 2014, the BPD started a voluntary program, allowing officers to use a body camera if they were willing. Now, Police Chief Cliff Cook has decided all uniformed patrol officers will need to wear the cameras while on duty:

“I think the original pilot and then the past year and a half … has shown us that having the videos is not only beneficial in cases of prosecution of individuals for crimes, as evidence of the actions of our officers, especially when they’re appropriate . . .  It also generally helps us resolve disputes or disagreements about what may have transpired between an officer and a citizen much more quickly and in a more definitive way.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

Initially, 18 officers volunteered for Bellingham’s program, and currently 34 officers are using the cameras, Cook said. He also mentioned that his police officers have noted that people often change their behavior for the better when they’re told they’re being filmed.

One of the main concerns for officers and community members has been privacy, Cook said:

“One of the concerns we talked about was the overriding concern about creating video of individuals in pretty personally trying situations that involve personal privacy, such as mental illness, or a domestic violence call in a private residence, or interviewing the victim of a crime. So there are provisions within the policy where officers are given discretion on whether they want to turn that camera on or not.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

Basically, the “policy” requires that officers turn on the cameras for any enforcement activity, an arrest, use of force or where they believe there will be the need to use force.

The department has a mix of cameras, some that are clipped on a lapel, others that are worn on glasses, but both have easily been knocked off in situations where officers were restraining someone, Cook said, so the department may shift toward other models.

Between 2014 and 2016, the total program cost has been $315,250, which includes things such as all hardware (the cameras, clips, glasses they sit on, etc.), software and docking stations, Cook told the council.

According to the article, the projected costs moving forward are about $35,000 to $56,000 per year each of the next two years for renewed data storage management.

Another concern was, of course, privacy:

“One of the concerns we talked about was the overriding concern about creating video of individuals in pretty personally trying situations that involve personal privacy, such as mental illness, or a domestic violence call in a private residence, or interviewing the victim of a crime. So there are provisions within the policy where officers are given discretion on whether they want to turn that camera on or not.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

The current policy requires that officers turn on the cameras for any enforcement activity, an arrest, use of force or where they believe there will be the need to use force.

My opinion? This is a step in the right direction. Body cameras make everyone behave better. They also catch evidence of what really transpired. Good move, BPD.

Lower Legal Alcohol Limit?

The National Transportation Safety Board wants the nationwide legal limit of .08 cut almost in half to .05, in an effort to save more lives.

Oddly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the nation’s most prominent advocacy group against drunk driving, does not support the legislation. MADD says there’s not enough data to show it would make much of a difference.

“Until we know that and can compare that and have an intellectual conversation on that, we want to focus on what we know is effective,” said Jason Derscheid, the Executive Director of MADD North Texas.

The organization most recently helped pass an interlock ignition law in Texas, allowing DWI offenders to have a device installed on their car. MADD has found that the alternative, suspending an offender’s license, doesn’t prevent them from continuing to drink and drive.

It’s advocating for similar laws to be passed in all 50 states.

Despite its lack of support for lowering the legal limit, MADD says it does not condone any level of drinking of driving.

“The only safe way to get home is to have a non-drinking, designated driver,” said Derscheid.