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State v. Ramirez

February 18, 1997

STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
JOSE RAMIREZ, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 95-1-01188-4. Date filed: 06/29/95. Judge signing: Hon. Kathleen J. Learned.

Petition for Review Denied July 8, 1997,

PER CURIAM. Ramirez appeals his conviction for possession of a controlled substance. He argues that the police lacked justification to stop him and to pat him down. We disagree and affirm his conviction. *fn1 Ramirez claimed the police did not have sufficient cause to stop him after an officer saw him make a quick hand-to-hand exchange of an item in a high drug area. "'When police officers have a "well-founded suspicion not amounting to probable cause" to arrest, they may nonetheless stop a suspected person, identify themselves, and ask that person for identification and an explanation of his or her activities.'" *fn2 An investigative stop is lawful if the officer can "point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion." *fn3 Here the officer saw Ramirez standing with another man in front of the tavern in a high drug area. He saw them make "a quick hand-to-hand exchange" and, although the object was too small to see, he saw that they "exchanged something." The officer testified that then the "defendant looked up and saw me and got spooked." Ramirez argues that this exchange was not enough to generate suspicion because the object was too small to see. We disagree. Given that the area was a high narcotics area and the officer's testimony that this sort of exchange was indicative of a drug transaction, combined with Ramirez's darting into the tavern after seeing the police, the officers had enough cause to ask Ramirez preliminary questions.

Ramirez claims that the police were not justified in patting him down for weapons. Under Terry, police officers are empowered to conduct a limited search designed to discover potential weapons if the circumstances indicate that the officers are in potential danger. *fn4 Here the officers were justified in their concern. From the initial contact between Ramirez and the police, he used abusive language while continually making comments to the effect of "I don't like the police" and "I don't have to do what you say." Ramirez also kept moving around, despite the officer's request to keep still. The trial court did not err by finding the officers were reasonably concerned for officer safety to justify a relatively unobtrusive pat down. Under these circumstances, the State met its burden to prove that the limited search was reasonable. *fn5 The fact that the officer may have asked him to open his mouth before searching him is not relevant here because no evidence was discovered.

After discovery of the knife, a more extensive search was justified as a search incident to arrest. The heroin found during this search was properly admitted.

We affirm his ...


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