Category Archives: Drug Offenses

Illegal Search At Starbucks

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In State v. Martin, the WA Court of Appeals held that the fruits of a warrantless search of a sleeping individual in a Starbucks store should have been suppressed because the officer was not conducting a criminal trespass investigation when he removed a metal utensil that was sticking out of the defendant’s pocket.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On December 11, 2017, Officer Bickar responded to a 911 call from a Starbucks employee, requesting assistance with the removal of a sleeping person inside the store. When Bickar arrived, he saw Martin sleeping in a chair. Bickar gestured to the Starbucks employee and received a responsive gesture from the employee that Martin was the person identified in the 911 call.

When Bickar approached Martin, he noticed Martin was wearing multiple jackets that had pockets. Bickar attempted to wake Martin, first by raising his voice and then by squeezing and shaking his left shoulder. Martin remained unresponsive.

Bickar noticed the end of a metal utensil sticking out of Martin’s pocket. Bickar worried that the metal utensil could be a knife or another utensil sharpened into a weapon. Bickar also expressed concerns about sharp needles.

Without feeling the outside of the pocket, Bickar removed the utensil. The utensil was a cook spoon, had burn marks on the bottom, and a dark brown residue on the inside. At that point, Bickar determined that he had probable cause to arrest Martin for possession of drug paraphernalia and continued searching Martin. While searching Martin, Bickar found methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and other drug paraphernalia. Martin was arrested.

Martin moved to suppress all evidence collected as a result of the unlawful detention and search. The court heard testimony from Officer Bickar and denied Martin’s motion to suppress.

Martin proceeded to a stipulated bench trial on the charge of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. The court found Martin guilty. The court sentenced Martin to 30 days of confinement. Martin appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

First, the Court held that the search was not a valid Terry search. It explained that while Terry does not authorize a search for evidence of a crime, officers are allowed to make a brief, non-intrusive search for weapons if, after a lawful Terry stop, a reasonable safety concern exists to justify the protective frisk for weapons so long as the search goes no further than necessary for protective purposes.

“A reasonable safety concern exists, and a protective frisk for weapons is justified, when an officer can point to ‘specific and articulable facts’ which create an objectively reasonable belief that a suspect is ‘armed and presently dangerous.

Here, however, the Court of Appeals found the search was not a justifiable under Terry:

“This search fails to meet the requirements under Terry. Starbucks is open to the public. The record does not support the trial court’s finding that Bickar was conducting a criminal investigation for trespass because there is no evidence in the record that Starbucks had trespassed Martin from the premises. Also absent from the record is evidence supporting Bickar’s claim that Martin sleeping created a reasonable safety concern.” ~WA Court of Appeals

Consequently, the Court held the search was not lawful under Terry because there was no reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed, there was not a reasonable safety concern, and the search exceeded the lawful scope of a frisk.

The Court also rejected the State’s arguments that the search was lawful under the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement. It explained that the community caretaking exception applies when (1) the officer subjectively believed that an emergency existed requiring that he or she provide immediate assistance to protect or preserve life or property, or to prevent serious injury, (2) a reasonable person in the same situation would similarly believe that there was a need for assistance, and (3) there was a reasonable basis to associate the need for assistance with the place searched.

“Officer Bickar did not subjectively believe an emergency existed and a reasonable person in the same situation would not believe there was a need for assistance,” said the Court. “Furthermore, even if the community caretaking exception applied to this search, a simple pat-down on the outside of Martin’s coat pocket would have alleviated any concern that the metal utensil was a sharp object or weapon.” Consequently, the Court held that removing the spoon violated Martin’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

With that, the Court of Appeals vacated Martin’s conviction.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges in the aftermath of a questionable search and seizure of their home, car or person. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

Passive Obstructing

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In State v. Canfield, the WA Court of Appeals held that a defendant’s feigning sleep when first contacted by police and his repeated refusals to obey commands provided ample evidence to support an Obstructing a Public Servant conviction.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Law enforcement officers testified that Mr. Canfield feigned sleep when first contacted, disregarded several commands, and tried to start his vehicle as if to drive away from the scene. He also lied about his identity and tried to hide a gun while being arrested. Eventually, he was charged with numerous crimes to include Possession of Methamphetamine, Second Degree Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, Possession of a Stolen Firearm, and Obstructing a Public Servant.

At trial, the court convicted Mr. Canfield of Obstructing in addition to some of the aforementioned charges. He appealed on numerous issues, including whether there was sufficient evidence to arrest to support a conviction for Obstructing.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSION

The Court of Appeals reasoned upheld the lower court’s finding that Mr. Canfield hindered a public servant in the performance of his duties.

In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals raised and dismissed Mr. Canfield’s argument that his case was similar to State v. D.E.D. That case, which was a favorable legal precedent, involved a defendant who passively resisted an investigatory detention. In that case, the Court of Appeals held the defendant’s passive resistance to being handcuffed did not constitute obstructing a public servant.

“The comparison fails,” said the Court. It further reasoned that the law imposes a duty to cooperate with an arrest and makes it a crime to resist arrest, and actions that hinder an arrest short of resisting can constitute obstructing a public servant.

“Passive resistance to a lawful arrest can constitute obstructing by itself. Here, there was additional evidence beyond the handcuffing incident, including the repeated refusals to obey commands and feigning sleep. Mr. Canfield did not merely refuse to cooperate with the police. He actively tried to hinder them.”

With that, the Court of Appeals concluded the trial court rightfully concluded that Mr. Canfield was guilty of obstructing a public servant.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. Hiring an experienced and effective defense attorney is the best step towards justice.

Disruptive Defendants

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In State v. Davis, the WA Supreme Court upheld a trial judge’s findings that a pro se defendant was disruptive in court and waived his right to be present at trial.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In March 2014, the State charged Davis with two counts of possessing a stolen vehicle and one count of possession of a controlled substance. He waived his right to counsel. The court found Davis knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel, and he proceeded pro se.

Mr. Davis’s path toward trial was rocky. He was incarcerated while the charges were pending. He also had troubles communicating with his investigator, and his motions to continue his case were denied.

At the CrR 3.5 hearing, Davis again sought a continuance and attempted to withdraw as his own counsel. The judge denied both motions. In response, Davis became irate. He screamed that he wanted a new judge. The court warned Davis that outbursts and disruptions would lead to his removal. Davis said, “You can remove me now. What have we been doing here? I don’t even want to be here. So remove me. I don’t care. I told you that. You can hold your trial without me.”

Trial proceeded. Davis returned to court and represented himself without significant incident until the State commenced its case in chief. He took numerous bathroom breaks throughout the day. At one point, however, Mr. Davis returned to the courtroom and discovered his water was removed by court staff.

Again, Mr. Davis He grew irate. He began a tirade of expletives, pounding on the table with his fists, and yelling at an extremely loud volume, at one point screaming “F**k you!”  to the judge. Davis was warned that he would be removed from the courtroom if he was going to continue to raise his voice and curse. The State attempted to proceed with questioning witnesses, but Davis refused to cease his outbursts. The judge temporarily cleared the jury.

Davis repeatedly said, “You can hold your trial without me,” and the court replied, “I’m going to do that.” Davis went as far as to remark, “Thank you. Thank you. Just go ahead with your kangaroo court . . . . I’m done with it.” During this exchange, Davis shouted at the top of his lungs, swearing, and apparently moved to exit the courtroom. The judge stopped Davis in order to make an oral ruling. She found that Davis was voluntarily absenting himself from the proceedings, noting that Davis intentionally drank more water in order to delay trial with bathroom breaks, often during critical portions of witness testimony.

After Davis left the courtroom, the jury returned and the State resumed its direct examination. The State questioned officers involved in Davis’s arrest, asking about the cocaine discovered in his possession and his voluntary statements given after arrest. Davis was not present to cross-examine either witness. He was absent for approximately 50 minutes of trial.

The following day, Davis returned. The court warned him that any profanity or disruptions would result in his removal. Davis agreed, though he continued to interrupt and ask for standby counsel, which the court denied. Despite Davis’s combative behavior, the trial proceeded with Davis present. Davis was convicted on all counts.

Davis appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed Davis’s convictions. The State appealed to the WA Supreme Court.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court began by saying The Sixth Amendment and the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as the Washington state constitution, guarantee the right of the criminal defendant to be present at his or her own trial.

However, the Court also said that the United States Supreme Court and this court have held that a defendant’s persistent, disruptive conduct can constitute a voluntary waiver of the right to be present.

The Court turned to State v. Garza and State v. Thomson as guidance. These cases give the test necessary to answer the primary question of whether Davis waived his right to be present. In short, the crucial test established in these cases was whether the defendant’s absence was voluntary.

“In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Davis waived his right to be present,” said the WA Supreme Court. “The record shows that Davis wanted to leave the courtroom and the trial judge accommodated him. Davis asked and later yelled, repeatedly, that he did not ‘even want to be here. So remove me. I don’t care. I told you that. You can hold your trial without me.’ The court then reminded Davis that he had another of the State’s witnesses to cross-examine, but Davis stated again that he was done.”

Furthermore, the court said the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it permitted a contumacious and stubbornly defiant defendant who insisted on leaving the courtroom to absent himself from the proceedings. It emphasized that maintaining order in the courtroom is within the discretion of the trial judge, and the judge properly exercised it here.

“Davis repeatedly stated that he did not want to be in court, that he was done, and that he wished to leave. Coupled with his disruptive outbursts that culminated in an abusive shouting match with the trial court, Davis obtained what he consistently told the court he wanted: leaving the proceedings. We hold that Davis waived his right to be present at trial.”

Accordingly, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, affirmed the trial court’s
ruling on voluntary absence and upheld Mr. Davis’s criminal convictions.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges. It’s never a good idea to represent yourself at criminal jury trials. Hiring an attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Miranda & Border Detention

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In State v. Escalante, the WA Supreme Court held that while a typical detention at a fixed border checkpoint will not render someone “in custody” for Miranda purposes, separating a person from the normal stream of traffic and detaining them for five hours in a locked room that was inaccessible to the public or other travelers will create the type of police-dominated environment that will require Miranda warnings.

BACKGROUND FACTS

In August 2017, Mr. Escalante was traveling in a van with a group of friends, heading back into Washington from Canada. They were all returning from the Shambala Music Festival in British Columbia. At the Frontier Border Crossing, patrol agents searched all vehicles coming from the festival as part of a drug enforcement operation. Escalante and his friends were directed to the secondary inspection area. Border patrol agents took their documents.

The secondary inspection lobby was an 11 x 14 foot locked room. It is not accessible to the public or other travelers. Detainees are not allowed to use the bathroom or access water without getting permission from agents and submitting to a pat-down search. Agents patted down all four men and found narcotics on the driver and one passenger, but not on Escalante or the other passenger. Agents kept all the men secured – either in the locked lobby or in the detention cells – for five hours while they searched the van.

The search uncovered drug paraphernalia and personal items containing drugs, including a backpack with small amounts of heroin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Without giving Miranda warnings, agents confronted the men with each item of drug paraphernalia and each item in which drugs were found and asked who owned it.

Escalante admitted he owned the backpack. At that time, Escalante and his companion were the only travelers in the secured lobby. Eventually, the Border Patrol Agents summoned local law enforcement and held Escalante until they arrived. These officers formally arrested Escalante and gave him Miranda warnings.

Escalante was charged in state court with possession of heroin and LSD. He moved to suppress his statement claiming ownership of the backpack because it was obtained in custody by interrogation without Miranda warnings. However, the trial court admitted Escalante’s incriminating statement. Escalante was convicted at trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The case eventually made its way to the WA Supreme Court.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court explained that the Fifth Amendment guarantees that individuals will not be compelled by the government to incriminate themselves. In short, the Fifth Amendment protects an individual’s right to remain silent, in and out of court, unless he chooses to speak in the unfettered exercise of his own will.

The Court also explained that in order to assure an individual freely makes the choice to talk to the police, Miranda requires that before custodial interrogation, the police inform a suspect of their right to remain silent and their right to the presence of an attorney, appointed or retained.

Evaluating the totality of the circumstances, the Court concluded that a reasonable person in Escalante’s circumstances would have felt their freedom of action was curtailed to a degree associated with formal arrest:

“Agents confiscated Escalante’s documents, routed him to a secondary inspection area, separated him from his belongings, arrested the driver of the van in which he was traveling, and detained him for five hours in a small locked lobby that was not accessible to the public or other travelers. After a lengthy detention, he was questioned using a procedure that communicated agents had found drugs and were suspicious of him. These circumstances created precisely the type of incommunicado police-dominated environment that was the concern of Miranda. We hold that Escalante was in custody and his unwarned statements should have been suppressed.”

With that, the WA Supreme Court reversed and vacated Mr. Escalante’s convictions.

My opinion? Good decision. Escalante should have been informed of his Miranda rights. Clearly, that the statements he made resulted from direct interrogation by the officers and were not spontaneous and unsolicited statements of a person who was anxious to explain.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime after giving incriminating statement and/or undergoing a questionable search or seizure. Hiring a competent and experienced defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Crime Rates By WA Cities

 

Image result for backgroundchecks.org wa state safest cities

A recent report from www.backgrounchecks.org  ranks Washington cities by crime rates. In short, although Washington cities are lower than average violent crime, there’s an increase in property crime.

“In the state’s larger cities such as Seattle and Spokane, you’re more likely to have your car broken into than become the victim of an assault. Still, despite Washington’s property crime issue, there are plenty of communities in the state with an all-around high level of safety.”  ~backgroundchecks.org

According to the report, the safest city in Washington is Snoqualmie. Recording just two violent crimes in 2017, Snoqualmie logged a very low 0.15 violent crimes per 1,000 residents, along with a property crime rate half of the U.S. national average.

Backgroundchecks.org uses the most recent FBI crime statistics to create state rankings. There were initially 7,430 cities in the data set. After filtering out the cities with populations of less than 10,000, 2,929 cities remained. The website then calculated violent crime rates and property crime rates by dividing the crime numbers by the population to get rates per 1,000. They also calculated the ratio of law enforcement workers to per 1,000. These were weighted with -50% for the violent crime rate, -25% for the property crime rate, and +25% for the law enforcement rate. The resulting metric gave us a the safety index score. In short, the higher this number more safe the city is.

Not every person arrested is guilty of a crime.  Other studies show that densely populated cities also have higher incidence of overall arrests. Therefore, please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime.

Meth Hurts Opioid Treatment

Image result for meth and opioids

The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment  published a new study which found that methamphetamine use was associated with more than twice the risk for dropping out of treatment for opioid-use disorder.

The origins of the study are interesting. Apparently, Judith Tsui, a UW Medicine clinician specializing in addiction treatment, was seeing more and more patients she was treating for opioid-use disorder also using methamphetamines, a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system.

She would start the patients on buprenorphine, a medication to treat opioid use disorder, but they would often drop out. So she and colleagues wanted to see if this was a common problem. They conducted a large study (799 people) at three sites — Harborview Adult Medicine Clinic in Seattle and Evergreen Treatment Services in Olympia and Grays Harbor.

“This study confirms anecdotally what we sensed,” said Tsui. “The next step is to build into treatment models how we can help those patients who struggle both with opioids and methamphetamines to be successful.”

“A substantial proportion of these patients are homeless and may use meth to stay awake at night just to stay safe and keep an eye on their belongings.”              ~Judith Tsui, UW Medicine Clinician

Dr. Tsui also said patients also tell her the streets are flooded with the drug and it’s hard for them to say no. Some patients have requested treatment with prescribed stimulant medications like Adderall and Ritalin to help them stop using methamphetamines.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges for illegal possession and/or distribution of unlawful drugs. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. In many cases – including drug cases in particular – the legality of how law enforcement officials obtained the evidence used to support the State’s case is a central and debatable issue. If the government’s conduct violated a person’s rights, the evidence is deemed inadmissible. And without the necessary evidence to prove the criminal charges, the judge may dismiss the State’s case.

New Year’s Eve DUI Patrols

Image result for A New Year but an old truth- There’s no safe place for impaired drivers to hide. 

The WA State Patrol (WSP) issued a press release stating WSP Troopers will be out looking for impaired drivers this week in preparation for the New Year. Patrols will be increased to include Troopers brought out to supplement regularly assigned patrols. WSP has partnered with five other states to form the Western States Traffic Safety Coalition. Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona are working together to save lives by removing impaired drivers from all of our roadways. The message is clear; A New Year but an old truth- There’s no safe place for impaired drivers to hide.

These extra patrols will include specially trained troopers to help identify and detect drug impaired drivers. Most WSP troopers receive additional training in drug impaired driver detection. This training, Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) is specifically focused on detecting drivers impaired by drugs. Troopers trained as Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) will also be out to assist in identifying and detecting drug impaired drivers. DREs receive training to identify what drugs a driver may be impaired by.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face DUI or any other alcohol-related driving crimes. It’s imperative to hire an experienced defense attorney who is knowledgeable of DUI defense.

Holiday DUI Patrols

According to an article in the Skagit County Herald, law enforcement agencies across the state are participating in emphasis patrols that search for motorists driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Drivers impaired by alcohol, marijuana and other drugs are involved in half of all traffic deaths in Washington, according to the state Traffic Safety Commission. From 2013-17, 1,268 people were killed in such crashes.

“These tragedies are completely preventable,” commission Director Darrin Grondel said in a notice of the emphasis patrols. “As a community, we can end DUI-related deaths. We are asking for help. If you are in the position to prevent someone else from driving impaired, please be bold. Offer to call them a ride or give them a safe place to sober up.”

In a recent commission survey, 81% of respondents said they would try to prevent someone from driving impaired.

The Washington State Patrol has investigated 18 fatal collisions year to date with the majority caused by impaired drivers. The Mobile Impaired Driving Unit (MIDU) will also be deployed in a central location for all law enforcement to use during this emphasis. There will be processors on board along with a phlebotomist for search warrant blood draws if necessary. This will allow for the suspected impaired drivers to be dropped off and allow law enforcement to return to patrol for additional impaired drivers.

The MIDU is a self-contained 36 foot motorhome that has been retrofitted as a mobile DUI processing center and incident command post. The MIDU is equipped with three breath testing instruments, two temporary holding cells, three computer work stations, an incident command computer terminal, a dispatcher console with wireless access to WSP dispatch centers and a microwave downlink tower for real time broadcasts from WSP aircraft. This is a full service police station on wheels.

Search Incident to Arrest

Image result for open purse with drugs inside

In State v. Richards, the WA Court of Appeals held that a search of an arrestee’s person, purses or handbags extends to closed, but not locked containers found on their person at the time of arrest.

BACKGROUND FACTS

On November 11, 2017, a loss protection officer at a retail store in Woodland, observed Richards placing store merchandise into her purse. The officer approached Richards after she left the store without paying for the items in her purse. Two police officers, who were waiting outside, detained Richards and escorted her to the loss protection office.  There, the officers arrested Richards and searched her purse.

During the search of the purse, the officers discovered the stolen merchandise and a closed, zippered pouch. They opened the pouch and searched it, looking for theft tools used for removing secure access devices. The pouch contained drug paraphernalia, foil residue, straws, and syringes.

The State charged Richards with unlawful possession of heroin. Richards filed a motion to suppress the contents of the pouch found in her purse. The trial court considered the evidence set out above and denied the motion. Richards subsequently was convicted of possession of heroin. She appeals her conviction.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

In short, the Court of Appeals held that officers did not exceed the scope of a lawful search incident to arrest when they searched a closed pouch in Richards’s purse that she was carrying at the time of arrest. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed Richards’s conviction.

The Court reasoned that both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution prohibit warrantless searches unless one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement applies.

One exception to the warrant requirement is a search of a person incident to a lawful arrest of that person. Under this exception, an officer making a lawful custodial arrest has authority to search the person being arrested as well articles of the arrestee’s person such as clothing and personal effects.

“An article immediately associated with the arrestee’s person may be searched if the arrestee has actual possession of it at the time of a lawful custodial arrest,” reasoned the Court of Appeals. “This rule is referred to as the ‘time of arrest’ rule. Based on this rule, an officer may search a purse or a bag in the arrestee’s possession at the time of arrest.”

However, the Court of Appeals also reasoned that the search incident to arrest exception did not apply to the search of a locked box inside a backpack an arrestee was carrying at the time of the arrest. For example, in State v. VanNess, the court concluded that the locked box in the backpack could not be searched without a warrant because the arresting officer raised no concerns about his safety and there was no indication that the officer believed that the box would contain evidence relevant to the crime of arrest.

“The issue here is whether the same rule applies to a closed, unlocked container in Richards’s purse. We conclude that it does not.”

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the search of a closed, unlocked pouch in a purse in the arrestee’s possession simply does not implicate the type of significant privacy interests that would render the search of the pouch unlawful.

The Court concluded that officers searching a purse or bag incident to arrest may lawfully search closed, unlocked containers within that purse or bag. “Accordingly, we hold that the trial court did not err in denying Richards’s motion to suppress the evidence discovered in the search of the pouch in her purse.”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving a search of persons, vehicles or homes. It’s critically important to retain experienced defense counsel like myself who are knowledgeable of Washington’s search and seizure laws.

Inventory Searches, Automatic Standing, & Stolen Vehicles.

Image result for meth in car

In State v. Peck, the WA Supreme Court found that persons found in possession of a stolen vehicle may challenge the search of that vehicle.  However, closed containers, other than items that “possess the same aura of privacy as a purse, shaving kit, or personal luggage” and locked containers, may be opened  during an inventory search of a stolen vehicle.  The search, of course, must not be used as a pretext for an investigatory search.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Two Kittitas County sheriffs deputies responded to a suspected theft in progress at a home in rural Ellensburg. When the deputies arrived, they discovered two individuals outside the home, along with a pickup truck stuck in the driveway’s unplowed snow. The deputies handcuffed the two men and eventually learned that they were Mr. Peck and Clark Tellvik. Two more deputies then arrived. One of them entered the pickup truck’s license plate into a law-enforcement database and learned that the truck had been reported stolen.

Officers impounded the vehicle. They searched the pickup without obtaining a search warrant because they believed that Peck and Tellvik did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a stolen vehicle. Police discovered methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia inside the vehicle.

Peck and Tellvik were charged with several crimes, including possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The defendants moved to suppress the contraband found in the black zippered nylon case. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, finding the inventory search to be proper and finding no evidence of pretext. A jury subsequently convicted each defendant of the charged drug possession and stolen vehicle offenses. Peck and Tellvik were subsequently convicted. Both appealed their controlled substance convictions. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress. The WA Supreme Court granted review.

ISSUES

  1. Whether defendants have standing to challenge the scope of a warrantless inventory search of a vehicle when that vehicle is stolen.
  2. Whether a proper inventory search extends to opening an innocuous, unlocked container of unknown ownership found in a stolen vehicle associated with defendants who were apprehended while burglarizing a home.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

  1. Defendants have standing to challenge the scope of a warrantless inventory search of a vehicle, even when that vehicle is stolen.

First, the WA Supreme Court held the defendants have standing to challenge the search. It reasoned that a defendant has automatic standing to challenge a search if (1) possession is an essential element of the charged offense and (2) the defendant was in possession
of the contraband at the time of the contested search or seizure. And a defendant
has automatic standing to challenge the legality of a seizure even though he or
she could not technically have a privacy interest in such property.

“Peck and Tellvik have automatic standing to challenge the inventory search,” said the Court. It reasoned that the first prong of the test was satisfied because both were charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Furthermore, the second prong is satisfied because Peck and Tellvik were in possession of the truck up until the time of the search. “As such, Peck and Tellvik have automatic standing to
challenge the warrantless inventory search of the black zippered nylon case.”

2. A proper inventory search extends to opening an unlocked container of unknown ownership found in a stolen vehicle.

The WA Supreme Court began by saying that warrantless searches are unreasonable. Despite that rule, a warrantless search is valid if one of the narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. One of those narrow exceptions is a noninvestigatory inventory search. Inventory searches have long been recognized as a practical necessity.

“To be valid, inventory searches must be conducted in good faith and not as a pretext for an investigatory search.”

The court explained that Inventory searches are also limited in both scope and purpose. They are permissible because they (1) protect the vehicle owner’s (or occupants’) property, (2) protect law enforcement agencies/officers and temporary storage bailees from false claims of theft, and (3) protect police officers and the public from potential danger. Unlike a probable cause search and search incident to arrest, officers conducting an inventory search perform an administrative or caretaking function.

The Court reasoned that under these circumstances, it was proper for police to do more than merely inventory the unlocked nylon case as a sealed unit. First, the police knew the vehicle was stolen. Second, Peck and Tellvik were arrested while in the process of burglarizing a home and were observed taking items from the home and its surroundings. Responding officers testified that a purpose in conducting an inventory search of the truck was to determine ownership of both the truck and its various contents. Third, the search was not pretextual. And finally, the innocuous nature of the container at issue is important: a nylon case that looked like it contained CDs does not possess the same aura of privacy as a purse, shaving kit, or personal luggage.

“Here, where the vehicle was stolen, Peck and Tellvik were arrested immediately outside of a home that they were currently  burglarizing, and the trial court explicitly found no evidence of pretext, the search was proper.”

The WA Supreme Court concluded that under the facts of this case, the search was a lawful inventory search. Accordingly, it reversed the Court of Appeals and upheld the denial of the motion to suppress. Justices Gordon McCloud, Madsen, Yu, and Chief Justice Fairhurst dissented.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving vehicle searches. It is imperative to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who will defend your rights.