Category Archives: Terry Stop

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.

 

State v. Rooney: Unlawful Search of Bedroom, Yet Valid Frisk of Pants.

In State v. Rooney, the WA Court of Appeals Division II gave interesting results on a multi-layered search & seizure case. First, an officer who lawfully entered a parolee’s room in order to arrest him, properly conducted a Terry frisk of a roommate’s pair of pants before giving them to the roommate. The frisk was justified by the presence of several swords, an axe and multiple knives in the room. However, the officer’s search of a room over the objection of the roommate, who was not on community custody, violated the roommate’s Constitutional rights.

Alexandria White, who was serving a term of community custody, began living with the defendant, Norman Rooney, in his home in December 2013 shortly after her release from prison. Her parole officer Chris Napolitano supervised White’s community custody. Napolitano knew that Rooney and White had lived together like a married couple and they had always lived in the same room together.

After White moved in with Rooney again that December, Napolitano discovered White had changed her address without notifying him, which violated her community custody conditions.

Napolitano obtained an arrest warrant for White and, with a team of law enforcement officers, went to Rooney’s house to arrest her on December 30, 2013. As Napolitano walked into the bedroom, White was standing in the bedroom with Rooney, who appeared to be asleep in bed. Napolitano observed swords and axes hanging on the bedroom wall and a couple of knives laying on the shelves. He observed additional weapons on Rooney’s nightstand. Napolitano advised White that by failing to report her new address and not being available for contact she had violated her community custody. White acknowledged that Napolitano would arrest her for the violation.

After Napolitano arrested White and placed her in the living room, Napolitano told White that he was going to search the bedroom. White responded that she lived in the living room, not the bedroom, but Napolitano did not see any sleeping arrangements or anything that appeared to be White’s belongings in the living room. Napolitano ordered Rooney to leave the bedroom so the officers could search it. Rooney objected to the search because he was not currently on community custody, but he began to physically comply.

Rooney, who was dressed in what appeared to be boxer shorts, asked to put on pants. Napolitano replied that he would have to search the pants “for safety reasons” before Rooney could put them on and leave the room. Given the other weapons in the room, Napolitano was concerned that Rooney might have a weapon in the pants. Rooney grabbed a pair of pants, and when Napolitano took hold of the pants, he immediately felt a firearm.

After Rooney was arrested and placed in the living room, Napolitano and Harvey searched the bedroom and found methamphetamine, heroin, and clonazepam. The State charged Rooney with three counts of Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance (methamphetamine, heroin, and clonazepam) and one count of First Degree Unlawful Possession of a Firearm. Rooney moved to suppress evidence of the controlled substances and the firearm. The trial court denied Rooney’s motion and found him guilty as charged at a bench trial. On appeal, Rooney argues that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that warrantless searches and seizures are generally unreasonable and violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. However, consent is one well-recognized exception to this rule. The State bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that a warrantless search falls into one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement.

The Court further reasoned that, in searches involving a cohabitant who consents to a warrantless search, Washington has adopted the Common Authority Rule; which says that a cohabitant may grant consent to search a residential area that each cohabitant has equal authority to control. This rule is based on the Washington Constitution’s guarantee of each individual’s expectation of privacy and the theory that a person assumes risk that his or her cohabitant may allow “outsiders” into a shared space.

Finally, the Court reasoned that the consent of only one person with common authority over the place to be searched when multiple cohabitants are present is NOT sufficient to conduct a lawful search of shared space.  “We have never held that a cohabitant with common authority can give consent that is binding upon another cohabitant with equal or greater control over the premises when the non-consenting cohabitant is actually present on the premises,” said the Court. “When a cohabitant who has equal or greater authority to control the premises is present, his consent must be obtained and the consent of another of equal or lesser authority is ineffective against the non-consenting cohabitant.”

With that, the court held that under application of the common authority rule, because Rooney was present and objected, the officers’ search of Rooney’s room was unlawful. The fact that White was serving a community custody term does not undermine Rooney’s right to object to a warrantless search of his bedroom. Therefore, the officers’ warrantless search of Rooney’s bedroom was unlawful as to Rooney, and the trial court erred in denying Rooney’s motion to suppress the methamphetamine, heroin, and clonazepam evidence found during the unlawful search.

Regarding the frisk of Rooney’s pants, the Court of Appeals reached an entirely different decision. They decided the trial court did not error in denying Rooney’s motion to suppress evidence of the firearm found in Rooney’s pants. The Court reasoned that an officer may conduct a non-consensual protective Terry frisk for weapons if the officer can articulate specific facts that create an objectively reasonable belief that the person is armed and dangerous. The officer need not be certain that the person is armed before he or she conducts a protective frisk.

Here, Napolitano and other law enforcement officers saw “several swords, an axe, and multiple knives” in Rooney’s bedroom. Because he was aware of the number of weapons, Napolitano was concerned for his safety. Also, Rooney’s behavior following Napolitano’s warning that the pants would be searched, together with Napolitano’s observation of the weapons in plain view in his bedroom, gave Napolitano articulable suspicion that the pants Rooney wanted to wear might have contained a weapon.

The court concluded that the officers’ warrantless search of Rooney’s bedroom over his objection was unlawful, and therefore, the evidence of the controlled substances must be suppressed. But Napolitano’s frisk of Rooney’s pants was lawful and based on reasonable suspicion. Therefore, the court reversed Rooney’s three convictions for Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance (methamphetamine, heroin, and clonazepam), and affirmed his conviction for First Degree Unlawful Possession of a Firearm.

 

State v. Brock: WA Supreme Court Reverses Search of Backpack Case

In State v. Brock, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision to reverse the Defendant’s convictions for 10 counts of Identity Theft in the Second Degree, 3 counts of Forgery, and violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

Last year, in State v. Brock: The “Time for Arrest” Doctrine, I blogged about how the Court of Appeals reversed Brock’s conviction, agreeing with Brock that it was not a valid search of his person under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution. The court reasoned that under the “Time for Arrest” doctrine, Brock did not have actual, exclusive possession of the backpack “immediately preceding” arrest and reversed Brock’s conviction on that basis.

Well, the WA Supreme Court decided different.

The Court reasoned that the “Time for Arrest” doctrine didn’t apply because the Defendant’s backpack was a part of his person at the time of arrest:

“Under these circumstances, the lapse of time had little practical effect on Brock’s relationship to his backpack. Brock wore the backpack at the very moment he was stopped by Officer Olson. The arrest process began the moment Officer Olson told Brock that although he was not under arrest, he was also not free to leave. The officer himself removed the backpack from Brock as a part of his investigation. And, having no other place to safely stow it, Brock would have to bring the backpack along with him into custody. Once the arrest process had begun, the passage of time prior to the arrest did not render it any less a part of Brock’s arrested person.”

Based on that the WA Supremes reversed the Court of Appeals and decided the search was a valid search incident to arrest.

My opinion? Obviously, I agree with Justice McCloud’s dissenting opinion. He stated that the majority opinion ignores the strict limitations imposed on law enforcement during a Terry stop, confuses the justifications for a Terry frisk with the justifications for a search incident to arrest, and “conflicts with our precedent holding that a full custodial arrest is a prerequisite to any search incident to arrest.”

Justice McCloud couldn’t have said it better in the tongue-in-cheek retort in the last sentence of his dissent:

“I fear the majority’s new rule will only invite further expansions of our ‘narrow’ and ‘jealously guarded’ exception to the warrant requirement.”

Exactly.

Most Strict & Most Lenient States For DUIs

Here’s a new and interesting study: Which states are the toughest on DUI? WalletHub compared the enforcement rules in all 50 states and D.C. to find out.

Most Strict Most Lenient
1-      Arizona 1-      South Dakota
2-      Alaska 2-      District of Columbia
3-      Connecticut 3-      Pennsylvania
4-      West Virginia 4-      North Dakota
5-      Kansas 5-      Maryland
6-      Nebraska 6-      Montana
7-      Utah 7-      Wisconsin
8-      Virginia 8-      Kentucky
9-      Washington 9-      Vermont
9-      Georgia 10-   Ohio
9-      Delaware 10-   New Jersey

Here’s more raw data:

  • First time offenders should expect to spend, on average, a minimum 1 day in jail, while those who are at their second offense should expect at least 21 days in jail.
  • Arizona has the longest minimum jail term for first time offenders (a minimum of 10 days), while West Virginia has the longest minimum sentence for second time offenders (180 days).
  • In 37 states, alcohol abuse assessment and/or treatment is mandatory, and in 39, local law enforcement regularly sets up sobriety checkpoints.
  • On average expect to have your license suspended for at least 3 months after being stopped for a DUI – even before trial – as most states “administratively” suspend licenses after arrest. Georgia will suspend a license for the longest period (up to 12 months), while 7 states do not have administrative license suspensions.
  • After a first arrest with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more, an “ignition Interlock device” is mandatory in 24 states. In another 14 states, this device is mandatory after a first offense only if BAC is above .15. In 7 states, these devices are mandatory only after a second offense, and in 6 states the device is never required.
  • Red states are stricter on DUIs, with an average ranking of 23.0, compared to 28.2 for blue states (1 = Strictest).

Washington State ranked #9 among the Top 10.

The Methodology used was interesting. WalletHub examined 15 key metrics to evaluate which states are strictest and which are most lenient for DUI offenses. Each variable is weighted so that the toughest ones, like jail sentences, and those shown to have the biggest impact on repeat offenders, like ignition interlock devices, are weighted more heavily. The metrics used and the weight given to them are detailed below:

Criminal Penalties:

  1. A) Minimum jail time (for 1st offense, minimum sentence only)
  • 10 days and over (10 points)
  • 8 – 9 days (8 points)
  • 6 -7 days (6 points)
  • 4 – 5 days (4 points)
  • 2 – 3 days (2 points)
  • 0 – 1 day (0 points)

              B) Minimum jail time (for 2nd offense, minimum sentence only)

  • 60 days and over (7 points)
  • 50 – 59 days (6 points)
  • 40 – 49 days (5 points)
  • 30 – 39 days (4 points)
  • 20 – 29 days (3 points)
  • 10 – 19 days (1 point)
  • Under 10 days (0 points)

2. When is DUI automatically considered a felony?

  • 2nd offense (5 points)
  • 3rd offense (4 points)
  • 4th offense (2 points)
  • 5th offense (1 point)
  • Never (0 points)

3. How long does a previous DUI factor into penalties for a new DUI?

  • More than 12 years (4 points)
  • 12 years (3 points)
  • 10 years (2 points)
  • 7 years (1 point)
  • Under 7 years (0 points)

4. Are there additional penalties for high BAC?

  • Over 0.10 (3 points)
  • Over 0.15 (2 points)
  • Over 0.16 or higher (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

5. A) Minimum fine (for 1st offense, minimum sentence only)

  • $1000 and over (3 points)
  • $600 – $999 (2 points)
  • $200 – $599 (1 point)
  • Under $200 (0 points)

      B) Minimum fine (for 2nd offense, minimum sentence only)

  • $2000 and over (2 points)
  • $1200 – $1999 (1 point)
  • $400 – $1199 (0.5 points)
  • Under $400 (0 points)

6. Protection against child endangerment

  • Yes (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

         Prevention:

7. When is an ignition interlock mandatory?

  • 1st conviction with 0.08 BAC (5 points)
  • 1st conviction with 0.15 BAC (4 points)
  • 2nd conviction (2 points)
  • Not mandatory (0 points)

8. Is there an “administrative” license suspension after arrest (and before conviction)?

  • 6 months or more (4 points)
  • 3-6 months (3 points)
  • Less than 3 months (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

9. How long is ignition interlock mandatory?

  • 6 months or more (3 points)
  • 3-6 months (2 points)
  • Ignition Interlock period determined by court (1 point)

10. Is alcohol abuse assessment and/or treatment mandatory?

  • Yes (2 points)
  • No (0 points)

11. Vehicle Impound After Arrest

  • Yes (2 points)
  • No (0 points)

12. Average insurance rate increase after DUI.

  • 100% or more increased cost (1 point)
  • Above 75% increase in cost (0.75 points)
  • Above 50% increase in cost (0.50 points)
  • Above 25% increase in cost (0.25 points)
  • Under 25% increase in cost (0 points)

13. “No-refusal” initiative for rapid search warrants for sobriety testing

  • Yes (1 point)
  • No (0 points)

14. Sobriety checkpoints?

Yes (1 point) No (0 points)

15. Other penalties

  • If a state has any other penalties (1 point)
  • No other penalties (0 points)

Total: 55 points.

The Overall Rank was determined by how many points each state accumulated. The highest score – for the strictest state, which was Arizona – was ranked 1.

The data is interesting to interpret. The study said that since the 1980s, when states first began to crack down on drunk driving, the rate of impaired driving and the number of accidents caused by drunk drivers has dropped considerably. This has meant many saved lives, as drunk driving fatalities declined 52 percent from 1982 to 2013.

The study also mentioned some of this change was attributed to evolving social attitudes. Also, new, tougher penalties for those caught driving under the influence have also had an impact, especially in reducing the number of repeat violators. For example, almost half the states now require all convicted DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device in any vehicles they will be driving. These devices analyze the driver’s breath and won’t permit the car to start if alcohol is detected. The study mentioned that the federal government estimates that these devices have reduced re-arrest rates of DUI offenders by 67 percent.

My opinion? The constant lobbying from groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute have driven legislators to enact tougher laws of the the years.

State v. Z.U.E.: Terry Stop Based on Unreliable Informant Tip Was Unlawful

Good decision.

In State v. Z.U.E., the Washington Supreme Court decided that when police stop an individual based on an informant’s tip, there must be some “indicia of reliability” based on the totality of the circumstances. Here, there wasn’t.

The facts show that Z.U.E. was a juvenile passenger in a car stopped by police after several 911 callers reported a bald shirtless man seen carrying a gun. Another caller reported a 17 year old female gave the gun to the shirtless man. Based on these tips, police stopped a car believing that the female was in the car. They ordered Z.U.E out of the vehicle, searched him, and found marijuana on his person. The officers did not find any guns, nor did they find the bald, shirtless subject.

The state prosecuted Z.U.E for Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance and Obstructing a Law Enforcement Officer. At his trial, Z.U.E. argued a CrR 3.6 Motion to Suppress and essentially challenged the Terry stop and subsequent search incident to arrest. The police who stopped ZUE did not know how many 911 callers there were or the identities of the callers and did not corroborate the report regarding the female with a gun.  The trial court denied the motion. Z.U.E. was found guilty of the drug charge and acquitted on the Obstructing charge. Z.U.E. appealed. The WA Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the 911 calls lacked sufficient “indicia of reliability” to justify the stop. Again, the case went up on appeal – this time, by the State –  to the WA Supreme Court.

The WA Supremes affirmed the WA Court of Appeals and suppressed the evidence. In reaching their decision, the Court discussed Terry stops. In challenging the validity of a Terry stop, article I, section 7 of the WA Constitution generally tracks the U.S. Constitution’s  Fourth Amendment analysis. That said, warrantless seizures are presumed unreasonable, and the State bears the burden of establishing that the seizure falls within one of the carefully drawn exceptions to the warrant requirement. One such exception is a brief investigatory detention of a person, known as a Terry stop. For a Terry stop to be permissible, the State must show that the officer had a “reasonable suspicion” that the detained person was, or was about to be, involved in a crime.

They court further reasoned that when police stop an individual based on an informant’s tip, there must be some “indicia of reliability” based on the totality of the circumstances. There must be either (1) circumstances establishing the informant’s reliability or (2) some corroborative observation by the officers that shows the presence of criminal activity or the informer’s information was obtained in a reliable fashion. Here, the police did not have any articulable reason to suspect any of the passengers in the car of criminal activity. The seizure of Z.U.E was unlawful and the evidence obtained as a result of that seizure should have been suppressed.

My opinion? Good decision. This was a straightforward application of the law. The informant tips were unreliable. Also, Z.U.E.’s involvement on the 911 calls and firearms was so attenuated that it was virtually irrelevant. Well done, WA Supremes!

State v. Flores: WA Court of Appeals Decides Frisk for Gun Was Unconstitutional

 

In State v. Flores, Division III of the WA Court of Appeals UPHELD the suppression of a gun that officers found on an individual who was walking with a known-gang member and fugitive who had just threatened another person with a firearm. The reason for the suppression? There were no grounds to frisk the defendant because he made no furtive movements, had no known violent propensities, and was compliant with all of the officer’s directions.

Here, Moses Lake police were responded to an anonymous report that Giovanni Powell held a gun to somebody’s head. Dispatch also reported an outstanding warrant for the arrest of Powell. He was a known gang member and a fugitive.

The defendant, Cody Flores, was with Powell. Although Flores had no warrants for his arrest and did not point a firearm at anyone, Flores did, in fact, possess a firearm on his person. Unfortunately, he possessed the firearm unlawfully because a prior felony conviction barred his possession.

Police apprehended both Powell and Flores. Although Flores complied with officers, had no known violent propensities and was compliant with all of the officer’s directions, Flores was nevertheless frisked. Officers found his friearm. He was charged with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the First Degree in violation of RCW 9.41.040(1)(a). However, Flores’ his defense attorney prevailed in a 3.6 Motion to suppress the firearm due to an unlawful search.

Among other findings, the trial court found that the officers lacked individualized articulable suspicion to suspect Cody Flores of criminal activity. The trial court granted Cody Flores’ motion to suppress evidence of the gun found on his person and dismissed the charge against him. The State filed an appeal.

The WA Court of Appeals sided with the trial court’s suppression. It reasoned that the Washington Constitution, not the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, is the controlling law. Article I, section 7 of the WA Constitution provides that “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.” The Court reasoned that WA’s protection encompasses and exceeds the protection guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The Court further reasoned that, as a general rule, warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution. There are five exceptions to the warrant requirement. They include (1) exigent circumstances, (2) searches incident to a valid arrest, (3) inventory searches, (4) plain view searches, and (5) Terry investigative stops. The State bears the burden of demonstrating that a warrantless seizure falls into a narrow exception to the rule. “This is a strict rule.” said the Court. “Exceptions to the warrant requirement are limited and narrowly drawn.

“Merely associating with a person suspected of criminal activity does not strip away the protections of the constitution,” said the Court. “In order for police to lawfully seize an otherwise innocent individual present with an arrestee, the arresting officer must articulate an ‘objective rationale’ predicated specifically on safety concerns.”

Finally, the court reasoned that automatically authorizing the search of non-arrested individuals because those individuals happen to be associated with the arrestee, or within the vicinity of the arrest, would distort the narrow limits of the warrant exceptions and offend fundamental constitutional principles. Because the privacy interest of a non arrested individual remains largely undiminished, full blown evidentiary searches of non-arrested individuals are constitutionally invalid even when officers may legitimately fear for their safety. “A generalized concern for officer safety has never justified a full search of a nonarrested person,” said the court.

With that, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s suppression of evidence and dismissal of charges against Cody Flores.

My opinion? This is a well-reasoned case. It’d be different if the defendant was doing something unlawful, being uncooperative and/or raising safety concerns with the police. Here, the situation was purely mathematics. Again, there can search incident to arrest if there is no arrest. And there can be no arrest without probable cause. Here, there was no probable cause to arrest and search Mr. Flores. Period.

Good opinion!

State v. Howerton: Citizen 911 Call Supports Terry Stop

 

In State v. Howerton, the WA Court of Appeals held that a citizen informant’s 911 call was reliable enough to support a Terry stop. The citizen informant provided her name, address, and telephone number to the dispatch, included a statement that she had just witnessed the crime, objective facts that indicated criminal rather than legal activity, and an offer to speak with the police if they needed to contact her.

On September 29, 2013, at 2:00 a.m., Laura Parks called 911 from her cell phone to report that she just witnessed someone break into a van parked across the street from her house. She provided her name, address, and telephone number to the dispatcher. Parks described the suspect as a black male, average build, five feet seven inches tall, wearing a baggy black leather jacket and baggy pants. She stated he left the area on foot and was heading south on Second Avenue in Burien, Washington.

Police responded to the call and began searching the area for the subject. They contacted a man identified as Delante Howerton matching the description. Howerton was handcuffed. Police noticed a blade sticking out of Howerton’s sleeve. When searched Howerton for weapons, police officers found a foot-long bread knife and a screwdriver on Howerton’s person.

Ms. Parks confirmed that Howerton was the individual she saw break into the van earlier.

Howerton was charged with attempted Theft of a Motor Vehicle, Making or Possessing Vehicle Theft Tools, and Intimidating a Public Servant. The trial court later dismissed the charge of intimidating a public servant. Howerton moved to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the investigatory detention. Specifically, Howerton argued Hutchinson lacked reasonable articulable suspicion to detain him when Hutchinson’s only source of information was from a named but unknown telephone informant. After a CrR 3.5 and CrR 3.6 hearing, the trial court denied Howerton’s motion to suppress.

A jury convicted Howerton of misdemeanor second degree attempted taking of a motor vehicle without permission and making or having vehicle theft tools. He appealed.

The Court of Appeals upheld Howerton’s conviction and ruled his stop/arrest was lawful under Terry v. Ohio. They reasoned that an investigatory Terry stop is permissible ifthe investigating officer has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal activity. A reasonable suspicion is the substantial possibility that criminal conduct has occurred or is about to occur. A reasonable suspicion can arise from information that is less reliable than that required to establish probable cause.

The Court further reasoned that an informant’s tip can provide police with reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory Terry stop if the tip possesses sufficient “‘indicia of reliability.'” Courts employ the totality of the circumstances test to determine whether an informant’s tip possessed sufficient indicia of reliability to support reasonable suspicion. When deciding whether this indicia of reliability exists, the courts will generally consider several factors, primarily “(1) whether the informant is reliable, (2) whether the information was obtained in a reliable fashion, and (3) whether the officers can corroborate any details of the informant’s tip.” Known citizen informants are presumptively reliable.

Here, the Court further reasoned that Parks’s 911 call demonstrated a sufficient factual basis to provide reasonable suspicion for the seizure:

Here, Parks unequivocally indicated to the 911 dispatcher that she was an eyewitness. When she called 911, she told the dispatcher, “I just saw a robbery.” She provided her full name, her address, and her telephone number. She indicated that she was willing to speak with police if they needed to contact her. She told the dispatcher the incident occurred “directly across the street” from her house and that it “just now happened.” She stated that an individual “broke into a car.” She said she actually saw him enter the car. She gave a detailed description of the suspect—black male, average build, short hair, five feet seven inches tall, wearing a baggy black leather jacket and baggy pants. The dispatcher immediately broadcast this description via radio to officers. Parks stated that the suspect just left the scene heading south on Second Avenue. She also accurately described the street location. Further, Parks reported objective facts that indicated criminal rather than legal activity.

The court further elaborated that Ms. Parks reinforced her factual basis for these allegations by stating that the incident “just now happened” and that the car was directly across the street from her house. Parks reported facts she personally observed. The Court decided the information was reliably obtained and that the police corroborated the information from Ms. Parks’ tip.

Consequently, the totality of the circumstances supported Howerton’s  Terry stop. The Court of Appeals upheld his conviction.