Category Archives: Exigent Circumstances

State v. Vanness: Unlawful Search of a Lockbox Inside a Backpack.

Heavy Duty medication Lockbox with Combination (internal dimensions: 5.75" H x 8.75" W x 7.50" D)

In State v. Vanness, the WA Court of Appeals Division I decided that the warrantless search of a locked box found inside a backpack that the defendant was wearing at the time of arrest violated both the Fourth Amendment and Washington Const. art. I, § 7.

Defendant VanNess was arrested for having outstanding warrants in Everett, WA. When arrested, VanNess was wearing a backpack and carrying a bag. A police officer removed the backpack and asked permission to search it. VanNess did not respond. Everett Police Department had a policy requiring officers to search backpacks for dangerous items. Following that policy, officers searched VanNess’s backpack and found knives. They also found a small box with a combination lock.

The police officer used a flathead screwdriver to pry open the box. He looked inside. Although he did not see any dangerous items, he saw a scale and small plastic “baggies” and smelled vinegar, which he associated with heroin. The box was delivered to the Everett Police Department’s property room.

Police obtained a warrant to search the box. They found suspected methamphetamine and heroin, a digital scale, a glass pipe, and several plastic baggies. The Prosecutor charged VanNess with Possession of Heroin with Intent to Deliver and Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Deliver. Both crimes are Class B felonies. The trial court denied VanNess’s motion to suppress. At trial, the court admitted the evidence. A jury found VanNess guilty of all charges. VanNess appealed.

A warrantless search is per se unreasonable, unless the State can prove a “carefully drawn and jealously guarded exception” applies. These exceptions include a search incident to arrest and an inventory search. If an exception does not apply, a warrantless search is illegal and the exclusionary rule prevents the State from presenting the illegally seized evidence. Here, the defendant argued that the inventory search of his lockbox violated his Constitutional rights.

The Court of Appeals agreed. It reasoned that although State v. Stroud and State v. Valdez each involved a locked container found in an automobile, the court’s consideration of the Chimel v. California applies just as well to the facts of our case:

“Where a container is locked and officers have the opportunity to prevent the individual’s access to the contents of that container so that officer safety or the preservation of evidence of the crime of arrest is not at risk, there is no justification under the search incident to arrest exception to permit a warrantless search of the locked container.”

Under Chimel, the Court reasoned that police officers may conduct a warrantless inventory search (1) to protect the arrestee’s property, (2) to protect the government from false claims of theft, and (3) to protect police officers and the public from potential danger. Courts generally uphold inventory searches conducted according to standardized procedures which do not afford police officers excessive discretion and when they serve a purpose other than discovery of evidence.

The Court of Appeals decided that here, an officer’s compliance with an established police procedure does not constitutionalize an illegal search. Similarly, the court rejected the claim that the possibility of a bomb or dangerous firearm in the locked box established a “manifest necessity” to search the box. They reasoned that without exigent circumstances, a legitimate inventory search only calls for noting such an item as a sealed unit. With that the court concluded that neither the search incident to arrest nor the inventory search exception applies to the officer’s initial search of VanNess’s locked box. Therefore, the police unconstitutionally searched the locked box.

My opinion? Good decision. It appears the Court of Appeals announced a new balancing test for some items found on an arrested person at the time of arrest. Basically, if the item to be searched falls within a category that implicates an arrestee’s significant privacy interests, the court must balance the government interests against those individual privacy interests. Only when government interests in officer safety and evidence preservation exceed an arrestee’s privacy interest in the category of item to be searched may it be searched incident to arrest without a warrant.

Good decision.

State v. Rubio: “Exigent Circumstances” Found in Arrest for Possession of Methamphetamine.

In State v. Rubio, the WA Court of Appeals Division III upheld the defendant’s conviction for Possession of Methamphetamine because exigent circumstances existed to seize and search the defendant after it was discovered he had open warrants for his arrest and possibly witnessed a domestic violence incident.

Officers from the Spokane police department responded to a domestic disturbance call and found Ricardo J. Rubio inside the apartment at the reported address. Police ran a check on Mr. Rubio and discovered three outstanding warrants for his arrest. He was subsequently arrested and booked into jail. While being booked, police discovered methamphetamine in Mr. Rubio’s sock. He was convicted of possession of a controlled substance. The judge denied Rubio’s pretrial motion to suppress the evidence. He was later convicted at a bench trial.

Rubio appealed on the argument that he was unlawfully seized because he was merely witnessed the reported DV disturbance. The Court of Appeals, however, disagreed. They reasoned the seizure was lawful under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement.

Some background is necessary. Generally, warrantless searches are unreasonable per se under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, courts recognize a few carefully drawn exceptions to this rule. The State carries the burden of proving that a warrantless seizure falls into one of these exceptions. A recognized exception to the warrant requirement allows police to seize and search a person without a warrant when justified by “exigent circumstances.”

EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES

An officer is allowed to stop a witness under exigent circumstances when (1) the officer has reasonable cause to believe that a misdemeanor or felony involving danger or forcible injury to persons has just been committed near the place where he finds such person, (2) the officer has reasonable cause to believe that such person has knowledge of material aid in the investigation of such crime, and (3) such action is reasonably necessary to obtain or verify the identification of such person, or to obtain an account of such crime. The rationale behind the exigent circumstances exception is to permit a warrantless search where the circumstances are such that obtaining a warrant would compromise officer safety, facilitate escape or permit the destruction of evidence.

Here, the court reasoned Mr. Rubio was lawfully seized even though the officer had no search warrant. The officer’s detention of Mr. Rubio was reasonable due to exigent circumstances because it was imperative that the officer quickly locate the injured woman and her assailant.

The court also reasoned the seizure under exigent circumstances was lawful for three reasons. First, the police officer had reason to believe that a crime was just committed at the address involving injury to a person. Second, the officer had reason to believe that each person who was in the apartment, including Mr. Rubio, had knowledge which would aid in the investigation of the crime. Third, the officer’s request for Mr. Rubio’s identification was necessary to determine the true identity of Mr. Rubio. Running the warrant check was needed to verify that Mr. Rubio was the person he claimed to be. Consequently, Officer Kirby’s seizure of Mr. Rubio was lawful under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement.

My opinion? This is a difficult case to swallow. Sure, Mr. Rubio had warrants for his arrest. And yes, the police can lawfully arrest and incarcerate people for that reason alone. And yes, the authorities regularly find illegal contraband during inventory searches and/or when defendants are booked into jail on warrants.

Still, it’s difficult to accept the notion that citizens can become criminal defendants by merely being at the wrong place at the wrong time; and that merely witnessing an alleged incident can lead one to be seized, searched and charged for a totally different crime than the one police responded to in the first place. Interesting.

State v. Jardinez: Parole Officer Conducts Overbroad Search of Defendant’s iPod

Good decision.

A community corrections officer’s (CCO) review of video on a parolee’s iPod Nano violated the parolee’s constitutional rights because the CCO did not have a reasonable suspicion based on articulated facts that the iPod Nano contained evidence of past, present or future criminal conduct or violations of the parolee’s conditions of release.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/313085.pub.pdf

The defendant Felipe Jardinez was an parole for Drive-By Shooting and Unlawful Possession of a Firearm Second Degree. He served prison time followed by 18 months of community supervision. The conditions of community custody included requirements to report to his CCO, refrain from possessing controlled substances and refrain from possessing firearms.

On November 3,2011, Felipe lardinez missed a scheduled meeting with his CCO. The CCO called Jardinez. The two scheduled to meet the next day. During the appointment, Martinez asked Jardinez to submit to a urinalysis test. Jardinez admitted that the test would show marijuana use.

The CCO instructed Jardinez to empty his pockets. Jardinez placed an iPod Nano onto a desk. The CCO was interested in the iPod because parolees occasionally take pictures of themselves with other gang members or “doing something they shouldn’t be doing.” When the CCO handled the iPod, Jardinez appeared nervous. Nevertheless, the CCO lacked facts that the iPod video player would show evidence of a crime or violation of the conditions of the defendant’s community custody.

The CCO accessed the iPod. He found a video recorded earlier that morning. The CCO played the video. It showed  Jardinez pumping a shotgun in his bedroom. Jardinez was arrested. Police searched his home and found the shotgun seen in Jardinez’s iPod video.

Jardinez was charged with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm First Degree. Jardinez moved to suppress the evidence obtained through the CCO’s search of his iPod, and all evidence seized as a result of law enforcement officers searching his home as the spoiled fruit of the unlawful viewing of the video on his iPod.

The trial court granted Felipe Jardinez’s motion to suppress. The court concluded that a warrantless search of the iPod would be justified only if the CCO had a reasonable suspicion based on articulated facts that the device contained evidence of past, present or future criminal conduct or violations of the defendant’s conditions of community custody. The case went up on appeal.

At issue was whether the CCO had legal authority to search the content of Jardinez’s iPod when the CCO did not expect the search to yield evidence related to either of the known parole violations, Jardinez’s failure to appear, or his marijuana use.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that unless an exception is present, a warrantless search is impermissible under both article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A trial court may suppress evidence seized from an illegal search under the Exclusionary Rule or the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree Doctrine.

The Court further reasoned that Washington law recognizes that probationers and parolees have a diminished right of privacy that permits a warrantless search based on probable cause. Parolees and probationers have diminished privacy rights because they are persons whom a court has sentenced to confinement but who are serving their time outside the prison walls. Therefore, the State may supervise and scrutinize a probationer or parolee closely.  Nevertheless, this diminished expectation of privacy is constitutionally permissible only to the extent necessitated by the legitimate demands of the operation of the parole process.

RCW 9.94A.631 provides exceptions to the warrant requirement. RCW 9.94A.631(1) reads:

If an offender violates any condition or requirement of a sentence, a community corrections officer may arrest or cause the arrest of the offender without a warrant, pending a determination by the court or by the department. If there is reasonable cause to believe that an offender has violated a condition or requirement of the sentence, a community corrections officer may require an offender to submit to a search and seizure of the offender’s person, residence, automobile, or other personal property.

Also, the Court based its decision principally upon the Sentencing Guidelines Commission’s comment about RCW 9.94A.631(1). The Commission wrote as its official comment behind the statute:

The Commission intends that Community Corrections Officers exercise their arrest powers sparingly, with due consideration for the seriousness of the violation alleged and the impact of confinement on jail population. Violations may be charged by the Community Corrections Officer upon notice of violation and summons, without arrest. The search and seizure authorized by this section should relate to the violation which the Community Corrections Officer believes to have occurred.

Based on the court’s reading of the statute and its counterpart comment, it found RCW 9.94A.631 did not authorize the CCO’s warrantless search of the contents of Jardinez’s iPod. It affirmed the trial court’s suppression of the evidence of Felipe Jardinez’s unlawful possession of a firearm.

My opinion? Good decision. I’ve posted similar blogs stating that CCO’s and probation officers exercise too much power over defendants. This certainly is one of those cases.

State v. McNeely: U.S. Supreme Court Says Blood Draws Require a Warrant

In May, the United States Supreme Court handed down Missouri v. McNeely, a semi-controversial decision which now requires police officers to obtain search warrants for blood draws if emergency circumstances – in legal language, exigent circumstances – do not exist.

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-1425_cb8e.pdf

The issue decided by the U.S. Supreme Court was whether the natural metabolization of alcohol in the bloodstream presents a per se exigency that justifies an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement for blood testing in all drunk-driving cases.

The facts were such that the defendant McNeely was stopped by Missouri police for speeding and crossing the centerline. After declining to take a breath test to measure his blood and alcohol concentration (BAC), he was arrested and taken to a nearby hospital for blood testing. The officer never attempted to secure a search warrant. McNeely refused to consent to the blood test, but the officer directed a lab technician to take a blood sample anyway. McNeely’s BAC sample was well above the legal limit. He was charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).

The U.S. Supreme Court held that rather than applying a blanket per se exigency due to the dissipation of BAC in a person’s body, an exigency must also be based upon “special facts” under a case-by-case analysis.

The Supremes reviewed prior caselaw on this subject. In State v. McNeely, the Court pointed out that a diminishing BAC result upon the passa ge of time that happens during a DUI investigation is only one factor that must be considered in determining whether a warrant is required. The Court in McNeely further stated that other factors, such as the procedures in place for obtaining a warrant or the availability of a magistrate judge, may affect whether the police can establish whether an exigency exists. In other words, a warrantless blood draw can still be conducted provided there are other factors articulated by the officer.

My opinion? McNeely is a good, straightforward decision. In short, McNeely holds that when a person refuses to voluntarily submit to a chemical test for BAC, if time permits, a warrant should be obtained. If an officer cannot get a search warrant in a reasonable time, the officer should explain in great detail why a search warrant could not be obtained. The officer must be able to articulate what factors were present that created an exigent circumstance. Also, and importantly, “exigent circumstance” cannot be a result of the officer’s conduct. There must be objective, independent facts articulating why exigent circumstances exist to get a warrant.

State v. Schultz: Warrantless Search of Home

Excellent opinion.

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-supreme-court/1373311.html

Officers received a 911 call about a couple was yelling inside their apartment.  Officers drove to the scene.  The woman consented to the officer’s request to enter the apartment.  Officers found a marijuana pipe.  Upon their find, they also conducted a more intrusive – and warrantless – search of the apartment.  Methamphetamine was found.

The WA Supremes reasoned the test for an emergency aid exception (also called Exigent Circumstances) entry has been expanded to include the following elements: (1) The police officer subjectively believed that someone likely needed assistance for health or safety concerns; (2) a reasonable person in the same situation would similarly believe that there was need for assistance; (3) there was a reasonable basis to associate the need for assistance with the place being searched; (4) there is an imminent threat of substantial injury to persons or property; (5) state agents must believe a specific person or persons or property are in need of immediate help for health or safety reasons; and (6) the claimed emergency is not a mere pretext for an evidentiary search.

They further reasoned that here, the mere acquiescence to an officer’s entry is not consent to search.  It is also not an exception to our state’s constitutional protection of the privacy of the home. Finally, while the likelihood of domestic violence may be considered by courts when evaluating whether the requirements of the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement have been satisfied, the warrantless entry in this case was unnecessary.  Officers merely heard raised voices from outside the home.  The agitated and flustered woman who answered the door indicated that no one else was present in the home.  No emergency existed.

My opinion?  Good decision.  Granting a police officer’s request to enter the home is not, by itself, consent to search the home.  Period.

State v. Adams: The WA Supremes On a Hot Roll With Yet ANOTHER Decision re. Illegal Car Searches

“1-2-3!”

You hear this shouted in fight gyms and boxing matches around the world.  It’s a quick, concise statement of one of the deadliest 3-punch combinations in the sport.   It’s a left jab, followed by a right cross and ending with a left hook (consider opposite hands if you’re southpaw).  The jab opens the opponent’s defense and establishes punching range.  The right cross – your power hand – does damage.  The coup de gras left hook should result in more major pain, a knockdown or knockout; especially if ANY of the punches land flush on the chin or temple.  At any rate, somebody is getting hurt.  Or put to sleep.

For the month of August, the WA Supremes issued a 1-2-3 combination with State v. Tibbles, State v. Afana and now State v. Adams; all three decisions upholding the U.S. Supreme Court’s Arizona v. Gant which held that police may search a vehicle incident to arrest “only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest.”

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=822107MAJ

Lat’s talk about State v. Adams.  On May 24, 2006, Deputy Volpe observed Coryell Adams sitting in a parked car outside a casino.  Volpe checked the license plate number and learned that Adams had an outstanding arrest warrant for driving with a revoked license.

Volpe followed Adams as he drove to a Taco Bell parking lot.  Volpe drove onto the same lot, activated her emergency lights, and parked about eight feet behind Adams’ car.  As she stepped out of her patrol car, Adams stepped out from his car, stood near the driver’s side door and began yelling at Volpe, challenging the stop as racial profiling.  After Volpe repeatedly ordered Adams back into his car, Adams “took 4-5 steps away from the car” and stepped into an adjacent parking stall where he continued to yell and wave his arms.  At Volpe’s request, another deputy arrived and Adams calmed down.  He was then placed under arrest.

After Adams failed to identify himself, Volpe frisked Adams and removed his keys and his wallet, which contained documents identifying him as the registered owner of the vehicle.  The other deputy unlocked Adams’ car. After Volpe placed Adams in the back of her patrol car and read him his rights, she searched his vehicle and found a small black bag containing cocaine in the center console.  He was charged with Possession of Cocaine.  The case wound its way into the WA Supreme Court.  During that time, the U.S. Supremes decided Arizona v. Gant, which was alluded to earlier.

Similar to State v. Afana, the State argued the officer acted in “good faith” when arresting Adams.  However, the WA Supremes made short work of the case:

“Our recent decision in Afana resolves this case.  In Afana we rejected the State’s argument that “good faith” reliance on pre-Gant case law constitutes an exception to the exclusionary rule under article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution.  We explained the distinction between an officer’s “good faith” reliance on statutes that were subsequently declared unconstitutional to establish probable cause to arrest . . . [B]ecause the State concedes that Gant applies to the search in this case, and because we have declined to recognize a “good faith” exception based on pre-Gant case law in Afana, we reverse the conviction in this case.”

My opinion?  Criminal defense attorneys have reason to raise a glass and toast the WA Supremes.  These decisions are a fitting end to the summer of 2010.  Take notice, prosecutors: Gant and its Washington progeny are here to stay.  These cases won’t be skirted by “exigent circumstances.”  They won’t be distinguished by “good faith.”  Hurray to a new millenium in cases involving car searches and seizures. 🙂

State v. Tibbles: “Exigent Circumstances” for Warrantless Search = Unlawful Search

ECXELLENT opinion.  WA Supremes held the search  of a defendant was not justified by exigent circumstances and the marijuana/paraphernalia evidence obtained as a result of  the search should have been suppressed.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=803081MAJ

Micah Tibbles was pulled over following a traffic stop.  During the stop, Trooper Norman Larsen detected a strong odor of marijuana coming from Tibbles’s car.  Though he did not arrest Tibbles or seek a warrant, he searched the car and found the contraband.  Trooper Larsen and the posecutors argued that although they lacked a search warrant, “exigent circumstances” justified the search nonetheless.  Tibbles was convicted of for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.  The case wound up in the WA Supreme Court.

The Court reasoned the Trooper had probable cause to arrest Tibbles based on the odor of marijuana alone under the Plain View Dosctrine.   However, the existence of probable cause, standing alone, does not justify a warrantless search.  “Probable cause is not a recognized exception to the warrant requirement, but rather the necessary basis for obtaining a warrant.”   Hendrickson, 129 Wn.2d at 71.  The Court reasoned that because Trooper Larsen did not arrest Tibbles, and did not have a warrant when he searched Tibbles’s car, the search must be justified by one of our recognized warrant exceptions; such as “exigent circumstances.”

Here’s the law on exigent circumstances: basically, the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement applies where obtaining a warrant is not practical because the delay inherent in securing a warrant would compromise officer safety, facilitate escape or permit the destruction of evidence. There are five circumstances types of exigent circumstances: (1) hot pursuit; (2) fleeing suspect; (3) danger to arresting officer or to the public; (4) mobility of the vehicle; and (5) mobility or destruction of the evidence.”  However, merely because one of these circumstances exists does not mean that exigent circumstances justify a warrantless search.  A court must look to the totality of the circumstances in determining whether exigent circumstances exist.

Here, the WA Supremes decided the State failed to show that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search of Tibbles’s car.  Tibbles was outside the vehicle when Trooper Larsen searched it and the State has not established that the destruction of evidence was imminent.  Additionally, the State failed to establish that obtaining a warrant was otherwise impracticable.  “For example, we do not know whether Larsen could have used a cell phone or radio to procure a telephonic warrant or whether he could have called backup to secure the scene while Larsen went to procure a warrant,” said Justice Debra Stephens of WA Supremes.

Additionally, regarding the safety concerns, the facts do not establish that Trooper Larsen felt he or anyone else was in danger as a result of Tibbles’s actions.  Tibbles was not stopped on suspicion of impaired driving, but rather for a defective taillight.   Tibbles was alone, was compliant with the  trooper’s requests, and moreover, was released rather than arrested and allowed to drive away even after Trooper  Larsen searched the car and seized the marijuana and drug paraphernalia.  For these reasons, the WA Supremes reversed the WA Court of Appeals which upheld Tibbles conviction.

My opinion?  BEAUTIFUL.  The State’s “exigent circumstances” arguments were totally baseless.  Let’s boil it down: exigent circumstances should be found only where obtaining a warrant is not practical because the delay inherent in securing a warrant would compromise officer safety, facilitate escape, or permit the destruction of evidence.  If these situations do not exist, then neither does exigent circumstances.  PERIOD.

Well done, WA Supremes.  Thank you.

State v. Hinshaw: Absent Exigent Circumstances, Cops Can’t Enter Your Home Without a Warrant & Arrest for DUI

Great opinion.

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=269001MAJ

Here, the Moses Lake Police investigated reports of a car unlawfully driving on a bike path.  Police search the path.  They find Mr. Hinshaw on a bike close to the path.  He said he was a passenger in the suspect car, but denies driving.  They release him.   Later, the police find the suspect car in his driveway.  It had a flat tire.  They knock on the door.  He answers the door, yet refuses to come out.  He admits to drinking earlier.  Officers grab his arm, go inside of his home, and arrest him for DUI.  They are concerned his BAC level was dissipating.

The Court of Appeals rejected the State’s argument that “exigent circumstances” justified Mr. Hinshaw’s warrantless seizure.  The Court saw several errors in the police officer’s conduct.   First, the officers failed to establish how quickly the BAC would/could dissipate.  Second, the officers could not estimate how long it would take to get a warrant.  Third, although the police had probable cause to believe Mr. Hinshaw became intoxicated and drove home, the reckless operation of the car and consequent threat to public safety had ended.  Mr. Hinshaw was neither armed nor dangerous.  He posed no threat to the public or officers.  His car was disabled.  Consequently, exigent circumstances did not exist.

My opinion?  Great opinion!  The Court of Appeals saw through the State’s smoke and mirrors.  This was not a case about exigent circumstances.  An emergency never existed!  No, this was a bona-fide; unlawful exercise of “arrest first, ask questions later” on the part of the police.  Clearly unlawful.  Kudos to the Court of Appeals.