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Washington v. Griffith

as corrected.: April 25, 1991.

THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
TIFFANY GRIFFITH, PETITIONER



Thompson, J. Green, C.j., and Munson, J., concur.

Author: Thompson

Tiffany Griffith was convicted of driving while intoxicated by the Benton County District Court. On appeal to the Superior Court, her conviction was affirmed. She petitioned for discretionary review, claiming the trial court erred by refusing to suppress evidence of intoxication. We granted review and affirm.

Facts

A Benton County sheriff's deputy testified that on October 31, 1988, shortly after 11 p.m., he observed a vehicle cross over the center line of a Kennewick street, then weave back and forth several times in its own lane. The deputy activated his emergency lights and attempted to stop the car. The vehicle struck a street maintenance sign placed over a manhole cover, but continued without stopping until it eventually turned into the driveway of a residence.

The deputy testified he pulled in behind the vehicle. When the driver jumped out of the car and started running toward the residence, he got out and called for her to stop. She did not stop, but proceeded to the front door, opened it, and stepped inside. The deputy came up behind her and she tried to shut the door before he arrived. The deputy leaned against it to prevent it from closing. He smelled

alcohol on her breath and asked for her driver's license. When she was unable to find it in her purse, the deputy asked if they could check her vehicle for it. She and the deputy then proceeded to her vehicle.

Ms. Griffith was unable to locate her driver's license. The deputy then conducted field sobriety tests outside of the residence. He observed that Ms. Griffith had watery, bloodshot eyes, her voice was slurred, and there was a strong odor of intoxicants. He placed her under arrest and transported her to the Benton County Justice Center. There she was read her constitutional rights and implied consent warnings. A Breathalyzer test was taken and she was charged with driving while under the influence of intoxicants (DWI).

A suppression hearing was held January 3, 1989. Ms. Griffith argued all evidence gathered after the deputy prevented her from closing the door should be suppressed because it was "fruit of the poisonous tree" or the result of an unlawful arrest. The District Court found that when the deputy went to the residence, he had probable cause to believe negligent driving had occurred, and reason to suspect DWI, a serious offense. Since the suspect was fleeing, the warrantless arrest was constitutional and the evidence of intoxication admissible. She was subsequently found guilty.

On appeal to the Benton County Superior Court, Ms. Griffith's conviction in district court was affirmed. As to the District Court's refusal to suppress evidence, the Superior Court agreed DWI was a serious offense, found a need to arrest to prevent the destruction of evidence of blood alcohol level, and determined the deputy needed to ascertain the identity of the person exiting the vehicle. We have serious doubts under these facts that an arrest occurred when Ms. Griffith was first contacted in her doorway. However, we will analyze the case as submitted.

We first address the issue whether the deputy had probable cause to believe she was driving while intoxicated or driving recklessly.

Ms. Griffith contends the deputy did not have probable cause because he did not lawfully obtain evidence of intoxication until after he unlawfully entered her home. The State contends the deputy had probable cause to believe a serious offense had been committed.

Probable Cause To Arrest

[1] Probable cause to arrest exists when "the totality of the facts and circumstances known to the officers at the time of the arrest would warrant a reasonably cautious person to believe an offense is being committed". Watkins v. Department of Licensing, 33 Wash. App. 853, 856, 658 P.2d 53 (1983) and cases cited therein. See generally Utter, Survey of Washington Search and Seizure Law: 1988 Update, 11 U. Puget Sound L. Rev. 411, 453 (1988). The officer does not have to have knowledge of evidence sufficient to support a guilty verdict. State v. Hendricks, 25 Wash. App. 775, 778, 610 P.2d 940, review denied, 94 Wash. 2d 1006 (1980). ...


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