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State v. Coverson

September 16, 1996

STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
OTAGUS DEMOND COVERSON, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 93-1-00527-6. Date filed: 07/02/93. Judge signing: Hon. Leroy McCullough.

Authored by C. Kenneth Grosse. Concurring: Ronald E. Cox, Faye C. Kennedy. WE Concur

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Grosse

GROSSE, J. -- Otagus D. Coverson appeals his conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver on the ground that RCW 10.79.130, authorizing warrantless strip searches of arrestees, violates the Fourth Amendment and article 1, section 7 of the Washington constitution.

Specifically, Coverson challenges the blanket searching of arrestees based on the nature of the offense, drug possession, without particularized suspicion. Coverson also alleges there was insufficient reasonable basis for searching him. For the reasons listed below we reject Coverson's contentions and affirm his conviction.

This opinion will not be published. The facts are known to the parties and will be set forth only as necessary. Coverson was arrested as a result of a narcotics sting operation. After his arrest he was strip searched and narcotics were found. He was charged by information with the crime of possession with intent to deliver or manufacture a controlled substance in violation of RCW 69.50.401(a)(1)(i). A pre-trial hearing was held in which Coverson moved to suppress the physical evidence arguing that the police did not have probable cause to arrest him. He also objected to the strip search, but made no arguments regarding the constitutionality of the strip search statute. The motion to suppress was denied. At trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Coverson was sentenced within the standard range. He appeals his conviction, arguing that the strip search statute is unconstitutional per se and as applied. *fn1

The determination of whether RCW 10.79.130 *fn2 violates state and federal constitutional protections as it pertains to strip searches in drug cases has been decided. In State v. Audley, *fn3 this court found the statute, as applied in drug cases, does not violate the Fourth Amendment or article 1, section 7 of the Washington constitution. The court found the state constitution affords an arrestee the same level of protection from warrantless strip searches as does the federal constitution. The court determined that the validity of a warrantless strip search of an arrestee in a local detention facility depends on balancing the security needs of the facility against the privacy interests of the arrestee. The court held that, at a minimum, the search must be based on reasonable individualized suspicion that the arrestee is concealing contraband. As set forth in the statute and held in Audley, reasonable suspicion in drug cases may be based on the nature of the crime underlying the arrest and the arrestee's conduct. *fn4

We disagree with Coverson's claim that there was no reasonable basis or suspicion for strip searching him. Both the crime for which Coverson was arrested, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and his conduct prior to his arrest are sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion that he was carrying or concealing criminal evidence or contraband that would be discovered during a strip search. Drugs, weapons, or other contraband pose a potential threat to facility security. Here, a strip search of Coverson was conducted because he was seen with a baggie of suspected crack cocaine, but it was not visibly present at the time of his arrest, and the baggie was not found prior to the search. This, in conjunction with the other evidence of Coverson's furtive movements in the car and his hand in the waistband of his pants, led police to believe that he had hidden the drugs in a common area that drug dealers use, the crotch or the buttocks. There was reasonable suspicion present in this case, the warrantless strip search was proper. The conviction is affirmed.

WE ...


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