The Washington Constitution, like the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, protects individuals against unlawful searches and seizures. Evidence obtained through an unlawful search or seizure may be excluded. Washington drug crime attorneys know that whether evidence is excluded often turns on whether the encounter between the defendant and law enforcement constituted a seizure, as seen in a recent case.
The trial court entered findings of fact based on the undisputed facts. The police received an anonymous tip that a woman with an active arrest warrant was staying in a particular room at a hotel. The hotel clerk told them the room in question was registered to a different name. The clerk told them to trespass from the hotel anyone other than the registered guest in the room.
One of the officers recognized the defendant when she answered the door of the room. She was not the woman for whom they were looking. The defendant told the officers she was the only person in the room. The clerk came to the room and told the officers the defendant was not registered to the room and asked them to trespass her from the room. The officers then told the defendant to gather her things and leave. The officers came into the room to make sure that the woman for whom they were looking was not there and that the defendant did not get a weapon. One officer asked the defendant for her driver’s license so that he could enter her name in the log, indicating she had been trespassed from the hotel, and to check for any active warrants. The system showed she had a misdemeanor warrant. The officers arrested the defendant. She had already gathered her property from the room and asked if she could return it, but she was told she could not. She stated her wallet, phone, and identification were in the purse she had, but it was not her purse, and she did not know anything about any other items in it. The purse was searched incident to her arrest, and the police found a plastic baggie containing a black, tar-like substance wrapped in a goodwill receipt. The substance subsequently tested positive for heroin.
The trial court entered several conclusions of law. The court found the officers validly trespassed the defendant from the hotel based on the clerk’s request. The officer needed her identification to register her information, and the seizure of her identification was minimally intrusive. The substance in the purse was found pursuant to a lawful search incident to arrest. The defendant’s statements had been voluntary and were admissible.
The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence. The trial court found her guilty. The defendant appealed, arguing she had been unlawfully seized when she was asked for her identification. She did not challenge the trial court’s findings of fact.
The Washington Constitution provides a person is seized when his or her freedom of movement is restrained through physical force or a show of authority, and a reasonable person would not believe he or she is free to leave, in light of all of the circumstances, or free to decline the officer’s request and end the encounter.
Examples of circumstances indicating a seizure, as identified by the U.S. Supreme Court, include the threatening presence of multiple officers, the display of a weapon, physical touching of the person, and language or tone that indicate the officer might compel the person’s compliance.
If, however, an encounter does not constitute a seizure, it may not require an objective justification. Police may talk to people and ask for identification without articulable suspicion of wrongdoing.
In its findings of fact, the trial court found the officer used a “normal, non-threatening tone” when he requested the defendant’s identification. The officer did not leave the defendant’s presence with her identification. The appeals court found nothing in the record suggesting the officers displayed a show of force or stopped the defendant from leaving.
The appeals court found the defendant failed to show there was a seizure, and the motion to suppress was properly denied.
If you are facing criminal charges, you need an experienced Washington drug crime attorney fighting for you. The attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC, have a thorough understanding of the laws around search and seizure. If you are facing criminal drug charges, call us at (206) 622-6562 to discuss your case.
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