WA: Legal Roundup: Division II
Bliss was driving her van when a patrol officer pulled her over to verify she was the registered owner. The patrol car had noticed the van and a light skinned woman with light hair driving. The police officer ran a check on the car to find that the registered owner (Bliss) had outstanding arrest warrants (felony and misdemeanor) and was a light skinned woman with blond hair. The officer pulled Bliss over, arrested her, and searched the van- finding meth. Bliss tried to suppress the meth by arguing that the office made an unreasonable stop and an unreasonable inference she was the driver.
Bliss appeals her conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in denying her CrR 3.6 motion to suppress the meth and in concluding that the officer acted reasonably in stopping Bliss’s vehicle. Bliss also argues that under Arizona v. Gant, which disallows a warrantless vehicle search incident to arrest under some circumstances, the meth should have been suppressed.
The appeals court disagreed with Bliss’s arguments that the police officer’s observations of her prior to pulling her over were not sufficient for the stop and that the stop was unjustified, however, the court held that in light of Gant, there was insufficient evidence for review and remanded back to the trial court for more evidentiary hearings. The court based its decision regarding the justified stop on the analysis that the police officer observed a driver with light skin and light hair, which fit the description of the registered owner with outstanding warrants.
The appeals court remanded on the limited issue of whether any other exceptions to the warrant requirement might apply to the search of Bliss’s vehicle. The trial court is to conduct another suppression hearing, enter findings and give those findings to the Division II Court of Appeals.