Expanded Scope Of Investigative Stops In Washington

The constitution of the United States as well as the Washington Constitution prohibits warrantless seizures unless a legal exception applies.  Criminal defense attorneys in Washington are aware that one such exception is the Terry stop.  An officer can detain an individual if they suspect criminal activity based on articulable facts that the officer knows at the time of the stop. If the activity is construed as criminal, then it may justify a brief detention even if it is also consistent with non-criminal activity. A defendant in Washington recently challenged her conviction on the ground that the stop was unlawful.

A man returned home to find he had been burglarized and he reported unauthorized vehicles in his driveway resulting in the arrest of two men.  He then found another vehicle on the road to his house and again called the police.  The responding deputy stopped a vehicle that was leaving the road and was loaded with goods, so he asked the driver to exit the vehicle.  The deputy handcuffed her and put her in the back of his vehicle. Fluorescent light bulbs in the vehicle were identified by the property owner as belonging to him. When asked why she was there, the defendant told the deputy she needed to urinate.  After she was arrested, officers discovered a baggie in her jacket that contained methamphetamine.

She was charged with burglary in the second degree and possession of a controlled substance—methamphetamine. The defendant moved to have all of the evidence suppressed on the grounds that the initial detention and subsequent arrest were illegal because they lacked probable cause. The trial court found that the deputy had the right to stop, detain, and question the defendant.  The defendant was in a vehicle matching the description given by the property owner, so the deputy had a reasonable and articulable suspicion she had been involved in criminal activity. The defendant was convicted of possession of a controlled substance—methamphetamine.   She appealed, arguing the court erred in admitting the evidence because the deputy seized her without reasonable suspicion.

The appeals court found that based on the circumstances, the initial stop was lawful. The defendant then argued that the detention was not a traffic stop and that the deputy exceeded the scope of a traffic stop by asking her to exit her vehicle and putting her into the patrol car.  In this regard the appeals court found that there was substantial evidence that there had been a traffic stop.  The appeals court noted that an officer has the authority during a traffic stop to order a suspect to provide identification and to get out of the vehicle. The scope of a traffic stop may be expanded if the officer observes suspicious circumstances such as the large number of goods in the vehicle.  Furthermore, the property owner identified fluorescent light bulbs belonging to him. The defendant told the deputy she was in the area to urinate, but he saw no signs of urine.  All of this information provided justification to expand the scope of the stop.  He handcuffed her and put her in his car while he investigated.  The appeals court therefore found the deputy had not exceeded the scope of the stop in doing so and affirmed the convictions.

This case illustrates how a Terry stop may be expanded in Washington. If you are facing drug charges, an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney such as Kevin Trombold can help you defend your rights.

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Law Offices Of Marc S. Ward, LLC. provide strong legal services for Criminal Defense & Personal Injury cases.

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