Superior Court of Pierce County. Superior Court Docket No. 94-1-00957-7. Date Filed In Superior Court: May 11, 1994. Superior Court Judge Signing: Waldo Stone.
Written By: Armstrong, J., Concurred IN By: Seinfeld, CJ, Morgan, J.
ARMSTRONG, J. -- Lincoln Mance appeals his conviction of possession of a controlled substance, contending that the trial court erred in refusing to suppress evidence of cocaine recovered during his detention following a car stop. Mance also claims the State failed to show a proper chain of custody for the drug evidence. We hold that, given the stipulated facts before it, the trial court erred in denying Mance's suppression motion. Because we reverse Mance's conviction on this basis, we do not reach the chain of custody issue.
At the suppression hearing, the parties stipulated to the following facts. On March 4, 1994, Tacoma police arrested Mance in downtown Tacoma because the car he was driving was listed on their "hot sheet," a list of recently reported stolen vehicles. Several days earlier, Mance had purchased the car from Paulson's Fine Cars, but a misunderstanding occurred that resulted in owner Gerald Paulson reporting the car as stolen. The problem was resolved on March 2, and, with Mance present, Paulson called police to cancel the stolen vehicle report. The police report states that a call was received on March 3 attempting to cancel the stolen vehicle report, but no cancellation report was on file.
The police report of Mance's arrest, upon which the trial court relied, states that police
made a felony stop at S. 19th & Fawcett and arrested the driver, later ID'ed as Mance. Mance appeared to be under the influence of some kind of drug and immediately began struggling with [Officer] Roberts as Roberts was handcuffing him. Mance eventually had to have leg restraints put on him, and while he was lying prone on the concrete, he spit out a large rock of suspected crack cocaine.
Mance was initially charged with possession of narcotics and possession of a stolen car. The latter charge was dropped.
In its conclusions of law, the trial court stated that police "had probable cause to arrest the defendant when faced with the apparent stolen status of the . . . car, even though the car was not in fact stolen on March 4, 1994." We review a trial court's conclusions of law de novo. Dempere v. Nelson, 76 Wash. App. 403, 406, 886 P.2d 219 (1994), review denied, 126 Wash. 2d 1015, 894 P.2d 565 (1995).
Mance argues that reliance on the "hot sheet" alone did not give the officers probable cause to arrest him. Probable cause exists when the arresting officers are aware of facts and circumstances, based on reasonably trustworthy information, sufficient to cause a reasonable officer to believe a crime has been committed. State v. Lund, 70 Wash. App. 437, 444-45, 853 P.2d 1379 (1993), review denied, 123 Wash. 2d 1023, 875 P.2d 635 (1994). Probable cause is determined by the facts and circumstances "'within the officer's knowledge at the time of the arrest.'" State v. Fore, 56 Wash. App. 339, 343, 783 P.2d 626 (1989), review denied, 114 Wash. 2d 1011, 790 P.2d 168 (1990) (quoting State v. Fricks, 91 Wash. 2d 391, 398, 588 P.2d 1328 (1979)) (emphasis ours). Probable cause cannot be supported by information police gain following an arrest. See Rios v. United States, 364 U.S. 253, 261-62, 80 S. Ct. 1431, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1688 (1960); Henry v. United States, 361 U.S. 98, 103, 80 S. Ct. 168, 4, 4 L. Ed. 2d 134 L. Ed. 2d (1959).
The police report set forth the sequence of events: first, Mance was stopped and arrested; he appeared to be under the influence of some kind of drug; then he struggled and spat out the cocaine. Because Mance was arrested before the police were aware of any facts that might have established probable cause to arrest for an offense other than possession of stolen property, the question is whether the police had probable cause to arrest solely on the basis of the "hot sheet." If police did not have probable cause, the arrest violated Fourth Amendment guarantees against unlawful seizure, and any evidence obtained must be suppressed. See State v. Tarica, 59 Wash. App. 368, 378, 798 P.2d 296 (1990), overruled on other grounds by State v. McFarland, 127 Wash. 2d 322, 899 P.2d 1251 (1995).
The "fellow officer" rule justifies an arrest on the basis of a police bulletin, such as a "hot sheet," if the police agency issuing the bulletin has sufficient information for probable cause. See Whiteley v. Warden, Wyo. State Penitentiary, 401 U.S. 560, 91 S. Ct. 1031, 28 L. Ed. 2d 306 (1971). The bulletin does not, however, insulate the arresting officer from problems with the sufficiency or reliability of the information known to the issuing police agency. If the issuing agency lacks probable cause, then the arresting officer will also lack probable cause. Whiteley, 401 U.S. at 568.
Here, the police who initially placed the car's license plate number on the "hot sheet" on March 2 had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed. Paulson's report of a stolen car was reasonably trustworthy because it was a report from a person who believed himself the victim of a crime. See State v. Rodriguez, 53 Wash. App. 571, 574-75, 769 P.2d 309 (1989). Thus, if there had been no attempt to cancel the ...