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Washington v. Nelson

filed: April 12, 1996.

STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
DIANE M. NELSON, APPELLANT.



Superior Court of Cowlitz County. Superior Court Docket No. 93-1-00487-4. Date Filed In Superior Court: January 20, 1994. Superior Court Judge Signing: Randolph Furman.

Morgan, J., Houghton, A.c.j., Wiggins, P.t.j., concur

Author: Morgan

MORGAN, J. -- A state trooper custodially arrested Diane Maxine Nelson for negligent driving. Thereafter, he searched her car and found drugs. In a motion to suppress, she claimed that the arrest and ensuing search were illegal. The trial court denied her motion, and she was convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. We affirm.

On August 12, 1993, a state trooper stopped Nelson for driving 81 m.p.h. in a 65 m.p.h. zone. While he was completing the citation, she seemed angry. When he released her, she

rapidly accelerated her vehicle from the stop and in so doing sprayed [him] and his vehicle with gravel, causing [him] to shield his head with his arm to avoid being injured. Gravel struck both [him] and his vehicle.*fn1

The trooper followed Nelson and soon observed that she was again driving more than 80 m.p.h. in a 65 m.p.h. zone. Thus, he stopped her a second time and made a custodial arrest for negligent driving. Incident to that arrest, he searched her car and discovered methamphetamine.

A week later, the State charged Nelson with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Nelson moved to suppress, arguing that a custodial arrest for negligent driving is constitutionally unreasonable. The motion was denied, a bench trial was held, and Nelson was convicted.

On appeal, the issue is whether Nelson was lawfully arrested. If so, she was rightly convicted. If not, the search of her car was illegal, and her motion to suppress should have-been granted.

I

Clearly, the trooper possessed statutory authority to make a custodial arrest. Although negligent driving is a misdemeanor not punishable by jail time,*fn2 an officer with probable cause to believe that a person has committed negligent driving "shall have the authority to arrest the person."*fn3 The ensuing detention is not limited to the time

needed "reasonably necessary to issue and serve a citation and notice,"*fn4 and it follows that the officer is vested with discretion to make a custodial arrest.*fn5 Given that negligent driving is driving "in such a manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger any persons or property,"*fn6 the apparent purpose of these statutes is to allow police to arrest, and thus remove from the public street, persons engaging in dangerous conduct. The trooper in this case had ...


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