State v. Cherry: Consent & Self-Incrimination

In State v. Cherry, the WA Court of Appeals Division II decided that a police officer’s questions to the passengers of a vehicle – which were intended to determine whether one of the passengers could safely remove the defendant’s car from the scene – were routine booking questions and did not violate the defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights.

Defendant Mathew Cherry was arrested for driving with a suspended license. He was driving two passengers. When the police officer asked Cherry to confirm who was in the car, Cherry identified his two passengers. When asked whether either passenger could take the car, Cherry responded that neither had a license and that he did not know anyone who did. The officer told Cherry that his car would be impounded.

Cherry consented to a search of his car. A pipe containing methamphetamine residue was found. When Cherry was booked into jail, he resisted a strip search and apparently swallowed the contents of a small pouch after it was seen between his legs.

The State charged Cherry with Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance and Tampering With Evidence. Cherry filed a CrR 3.6 motion to suppress the evidence found in his car, arguing that the officers threatened to have his car impounded if he did not consent to its search and that his consent was coerced. The trial court also conducted a CrR 3.5 hearing in which Cherry challenged the admission of his statements to police. At trial, a jury found Cherry guilty as charged. He appealed.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals upheld Cherry’s convictions. Here, the officer’s questions to Cherry’s passengers were not intended to and did not elicit incriminating information. Rather, the questions were intended to determine whether Cherry’s car could be safely removed from the scene.

Additionally, the court disagreed with Cherry’s arguments that officers were not permitted to ask for consent to search his car after he invoked his right to remain silent. Here, the officer informed Cherry of his Miranda rights before requesting Cherry’s consent to search the car. The court reasoned that the request for consent to search was not designed to elicit testimonial evidence and Cherry’s consent was not an incriminating statement. Therefore, law enforcement did not violate Cherry’s constitutional right to remain silent by requesting consent to search his car after Cherry had invoked that right.

Moreover, Cherry’s statements to police that he had consumed drugs earlier that day were admissible, and not made in response to any questioning likely to elicit an incriminating response. The court reasoned that even if Cherry’s statements were prompted by watching the police search his car, as Cherry now argues, they were not prompted by unlawful interrogation. There was no violation of Cherry’s right to remain silent. Therefore, his statements were properly admitted.

Finally, the court disagreed with Cherry’s arguments that his consent to search was not voluntary, and therefore, it violated the Fourth Amendment and the evidence found during the search is inadmissible. Here, under these facts, Cherry clearly consented.

For all of these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirm Cherry’s convictions.