Court of Appeals: Div. III – Meth User’s “Social Contact” With Police Officer Not A Seizure
Bailey was walking down a street in Yakima when a police officer asked him “if he had a minute.” He should have said “NO!” and kept on walking. Instead, Bailey said yes and walked up to the police officer. The officer asked Bailey where he was going and what he was up to. Bailey said he was going to a friend’s house and the office asked for his ID. Bailey handed the officer his ID and said that he had a warrant. Bailey did in deed have a warrant and the officer arrested him. Search incident to arrest resulted in the officer finding 2.5 grams of meth in Bailey’s glove. Bailey was charged with possession.
At trial, Bailey moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the stop was pretextual and the officer's arrest of Bailey was an unconstitutional seizure. The trial court agreed and suppressed the drug evidence and dismissed the charge. The State appealed.
The State contended that the contact between the police officer and Bailey was purely social and that it was not a seizure or a detention. Bailey responded that he was not free to walk away and there were no legally cognizable grounds to stop him.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals against unwarranted searches and seizures. Article I, section 7, of the Washington Constitution provides greater protection to individuals than the Fourth Amendment. A seizure occurs when "an individual's freedom of movement is restrained and the individual would not believe he or she is free to leave or decline a request due to an officer's use of force or display of authority." This is an objective standard. By contrast, "an encounter between a citizen and the police is consensual if a reasonable person under the circumstances would feel free to walk away." If a contact constitutes a seizure, that seizure must be based on "specific and articulable" objective facts that give rise to a reasonable suspicion. "[A] police officer who, as part of his community caretaking function, approaches a citizen and asks questions limited to eliciting that information necessary to perform that function has not 'seized' the citizen." And an officer may ask for an individual's identification in the course of a casual conversation. Again, the key inquiry is whether the officer either uses force or displays authority in a way that would cause a reasonable person to feel compelled to continue the contact. The Washington Supreme Court recently clarified the limitations of a "social contact" in Harrington, 2009 WL 4681239. There, the court held that, viewed cumulatively, a series of police actions that constitute a progressive intrusion into a person's private affairs are an unlawful seizure, even where the actions may separately pass constitutional muster.
Division III found that since Bailey volunteered that he had a warrant outstanding, the police officer, at that instance, had reasonable suspicion necessary to seize Bailey. Therefore, no illegal seizure. The order to suppress was reversed and Mr. Bailey will be going back to court.