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State v. Byrd

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

October 10, 2013

The State of Washington, Petitioner,
Lisa Ann Byrd, Respondent

Argued May 15, 2012.

Appeal from Yakima County Superior Court. 09-1-02126-6. Honorable Blaine G. Gibson.

James P. Hagarty, Prosecuting Attorney, and Kevin G. Eilmes, Deputy, for petitioner.

Susan M. Gasch (of Gasch Law Office ), for respondent.

Douglas B. Klunder on behalf of American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, amicus curiae.

James M. Whisman on behalf of Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, amicus curiae.

AUTHOR: Justice Debra L. Stephens. WE CONCUR: Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, Justice Charles W. Johnson, Justice James M. Johnson, Justice Steven C. González. AUTHOR: Justice Steven C. Gonzá lez. AUTHOR: Justice Mary E. Fairhurst. WE CONCUR: Justice Susan Owens, Justice Charles K. Wiggins, Tom Chambers, Justice Pro Tem.


Page 794

Stephens, J.

[178 Wn.2d 614] ¶ 1 This case concerns the search of an arrestee's purse incident to her arrest. The decisive question is whether the search of Lisa Byrd's purse was a search of her person. Because the purse was in her lap when she was arrested, it was an article of her person under the long standing " time of arrest" rule. Neither the United States Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009), nor our decision in State v. Valdez, 167 Wn.2d 761, 224 P.3d 751 (2009), restricts searches of the arrestee's person. If the arrest was lawful, the arresting officer was entitled to search Byrd's person and articles closely associated with her person without showing the search was motivated by particularized concerns for officer safety or evidence preservation. We reverse the

Page 795

Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings in the trial court.


¶ 2 On the evening of November 17, 2009, Yakima Police Officer Jeff Ely ran the plates on a Honda Civic he observed parked on the side of the road. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 5; Verbatim Transcript of Hearing (VTH) at 4. Ely determined that the plates were registered to an Acura Integra. VTH at 4-5. He contacted the plate's owner, who confirmed that they were stolen. Id. at 11-12. During Ely's investigation, Lisa Ann Byrd, and a companion, entered the Civic and drove away, with Byrd's companion driving. Id. at 5. Ely initiated a felony traffic stop. Id. at 5, 14. He arrested and secured the driver, who claimed the car belonged to Byrd. Id. at 14-15.

¶ 3 Ely returned to the car and placed Byrd under arrest for possession of stolen property. Id. at 15. At the time of her arrest, Byrd sat in the front passenger seat with her purse in her lap. Id. at 6, 16. Before removing Byrd from the car, Ely seized the purse and set it on the ground nearby. Id. at 6, 17. He secured Byrd in a patrol car and returned to the purse within " moments" to search it for weapons or contraband. Id. at 6. Inside a sunglasses case in Byrd's purse, Ely found methamphetamine. Id. at 7.

¶ 4 At the suppression hearing, the trial court conceded that " [t]he facts here fall slightly outside of being completely on point with Gant and Valdez " but nonetheless concluded that the search of Byrd's purse was valid only if it was motivated by concerns for officer safety or evidence preservation, as described in these cases. CP at 4. The trial court's questioning of Ely focused on whether these exigencies were present. See VTH at 19-20 (" [W]as there any concern ... that she would be able to either access a weapon in the purse or destroy any evidence that might be in the purse?" ). Because Byrd was secured and unable to access the purse, the court held Ely's search was unlawful and granted Byrd's motion to suppress. CP at 4, 6.

[178 Wn.2d 616] ¶ 5 The Court of Appeals agreed, holding that the search of Byrd's purse had to be justified by concerns for evidence preservation or officer safety. State v. Byrd, 162 Wn.App. 612, 615-16, 258 P.3d 686 (2011) (citing Gant, 556 U.S. at 343; Valdez, 167 Wn.2d at 780 (J.M. Johnson, J., concurring)). Because Byrd was restrained and could not obtain a weapon from or destroy evidence in her purse when Ely searched it, the court affirmed the trial court's order suppressing the fruits of the search. Id. at 617. We granted review. State v. Byrd, 173 Wn.2d 1001, 268 P.3d 942 (2011).


¶ 6 Byrd asserts that the search of her purse violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution. The Fourth Amendment provides that " [t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. Article I, section 7 does not turn on reasonableness, instead guaranteeing that " [n]o person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law." Wash. Const. art. I, § 7.

¶ 7 Article I, section 7 is more protective of individual privacy than the Fourth Amendment, and we turn to it first when both provisions are at issue. State v. Bravo Ortega, 177 Wn.2d 116, 122, 297 P.3d 57 (2013) (citing State v. Walker, 157 Wn.2d 307, 313, 138 P.3d 113 (2006)); State v. Afana, 169 Wn.2d 169, 176, 233 P.3d 879 (2010). Under article I, section 7, a warrantless search is per se unreasonable unless the State proves that one of the few " carefully drawn and jealously guarded exceptions" applies. Bravo Ortega, 177 Wn.2d at 122 (citing Afana, 169 Wn.2d at 176-77; State v. Patton, 167 Wn.2d 379, 386, 219 P.3d 651 (2009)).

¶ 8 At issue here is the search incident to arrest exception. We begin by describing the origins and operation of the two discrete branches of this exception.

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[178 Wn.2d 617]The Search Incident to Arrest Exception to the Warrant Requirement

¶ 9 The search incident to arrest embraces not one but two analytically distinct concepts under Fourth Amendment and article I, section 7 jurisprudence. In United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 224, 94 S.Ct. 467, 38 L.Ed.2d 427 (1973), the United States Supreme Court explained that the exception " has historically been formulated into two distinct propositions."

¶ 10 The first of these propositions is that " a search may be made of the area within the control of the arrestee." Id. In Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 89 S.Ct. 2034, 23 L.Ed.2d 685 (1969), the Court held that these searches must be justified by concerns that the arrestee might otherwise access the article to obtain a weapon or destroy evidence. New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 459-61, 101 S.Ct. 2860, 69 L.Ed.2d 768 (1981), was a short-lived exception to Chimel that permitted police to search the interior of a car incident to an occupant's arrest without demonstrating concerns for officer safety or evidence preservation. However, in Gant, 556 U.S. at 335, the Court overruled Belton, holding that all searches of an arrestee's surroundings, including the interior of a car, must comply with Chimel. Searches of an arrestee's surroundings require the same justifications under article I, section 7. Valdez, 167 Wn.2d at 777; Patton, 167 Wn.2d at 386; see State v. Snapp, 174 Wn.2d 177, 188-89, 275 P.3d 289 (2012) (citing Chimel, 395 U.S. at 762-63).

¶ 11 Under the second proposition of the search incident to arrest, " a search may be made of the person of the arrestee by virtue of the lawful arrest." Robinson, 414 U.S. at 224. In Robinson, the Court held that under " the long line of authorities of this Court dating back to Weeks [ v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652, (1914)]" and " the history of practice in this country and in England," searches of an arrestee's person, including articles of the [178 Wn.2d 618] person such as clothing or personal effects, require " no additional justification" beyond the validity of the custodial arrest. 414 U.S. at 235. Instead, a search of the arrestee's person is " not only an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment, but is also a 'reasonable' search under that Amendment." Id.

¶ 12 Unlike searches of the arrestee's surroundings, searches of the arrestee's person and personal effects do not require " a case-by-case adjudication" because they always implicate Chimel concerns for officer safety and evidence preservation. Id. Thus, their validity " does not depend on what a court may later decide was the probability in a particular arrest situation that weapons or evidence would in fact be found upon the person of the suspect." Id.; see Virginia v. Moore, 553 U.S. 164, 176-77, 128 S.Ct. 1598, 170 L.Ed.2d 559 (2008) (holding " [t]he interests justifying search are present whenever an officer makes an arrest" ).

¶ 13 The authority to search an arrestee's person and personal effects flows from the authority of a custodial arrest itself. Robinson, 414 U.S. at 232 (noting " '[t]he peace officer empowered to arrest must be empowered to disarm. If he may disarm, he may search, lest a weapon be concealed'" (quoting People v. Chiagles, 237 N.Y. 193, 197, 142 N.E. 583, 584 (1923) (Cardozo, J.))); see State v. Hehman, 90 Wn.2d 45, 49-50, 578 P.2d 527 (1978) (recognizing an arresting officer's " ...

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