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State v. Hamilton

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

March 11, 2014

The State of Washington, Respondent,
Jessica Sophia Hamilton, Appellant

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Appeal from Lewis County Superior Court. Docket No: 12-1-00011-0. Date filed: 07/25/2012. Judge signing: Honorable James W Lawler.

Lise Ellner, for appellant.

Jonathan L. Meyer, Prosecuting Attorney, and Eric W. Eisenberg, Deputy, for respondent.

AUTHOR: Bradley A. Maxa, J. We concur: Jill M Johanson, A.C.J., Thomas R Bjorgen, J.


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Maxa, J.

[179 Wn.App. 875] ¶ 1 Jessica Hamilton appeals her conviction for unlawful possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine). She argues that (1) the warrantless search of a purse containing her rings that her husband showed to officers outside of the couple's home was unlawful and (2) her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to assert the warrantless search as a basis for her motion to suppress the methamphetamine found inside it. Because Hamilton argues that the methamphetamine was discovered as the result of a warrantless search for the first time on appeal, we consider this issue only in the context of ineffective assistance of counsel. We hold that defense counsel's representation was deficient because there was no strategic reason for failing to file a motion to suppress evidence discovered in the warrantless search. We also hold that Hamilton was prejudiced because the trial court likely would have suppressed the evidence on the grounds that she had a subjective expectation of privacy in the purse and she did not abandon that privacy interest. Therefore, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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¶ 2 Jessica and Travis Hamilton were married in 2007 and lived together in a house in Centralia. In late September [179 Wn.App. 876] 2011, Jessica Hamilton [1] left their home and took the family vehicle. She returned on October 10, 2011. On October 11, Travis obtained a protective order against her. Later that day, Travis returned home and found Hamilton in the house. She had unloaded bags and other items from the vehicle into the kitchen and dining room. Travis immediately called the police and asked them to serve her with the protective order. While looking through the materials Hamilton had unloaded, Travis saw a purse on the counter and observed drug paraphernalia inside.

¶ 3 Centralia police officers arrived at the house and asked Hamilton to come outside. Travis asked the officers to search the vehicle and house. The officers told him that they would not search the house but that Travis could bring items outside to show them. Travis went back into the house and returned with a partially open purse that he said contained drug paraphernalia. He held the purse open for the officers to see. The officers observed drug paraphernalia inside.

¶ 4 The officers then searched the purse and discovered a glass pipe next to a pouch containing Hamilton's wedding rings. After the pipe's contents tested positive for methamphetamine, the officers arrested Hamilton. The State charged her with possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine), under RCW 69.50.4013 and 69.50.206(d)(2).

¶ 5 Before trial, Hamilton moved to suppress statements she made to officers at the scene. At the hearing, one of the officers testified that Hamilton said that the purse did not belong to her. The officers testified that Hamilton said she had found the purse in the car and did not know to whom the purse belonged. However, the officers also testified that she made statements indicating that her rings were in the purse and that she had put them there. According to an [179 Wn.App. 877] officer, Hamilton later commented that she saw the purse, thought it was cute, and decided to keep it. At trial, the officers again testified that Hamilton told them she had put her rings in the purse.

¶ 6 Hamilton moved to suppress the methamphetamine on the grounds that it was discovered as a result of a warrantless search of her house. She argued that although the officers did not enter the house, Travis acted as their agent when he brought the purse out of the house at the officers' direction. The trial court denied the motion. Hamilton does not challenge that ruling on appeal. Hamilton did not argue that the methamphetamine should have been suppressed on the ground that it was obtained in an unlawful search of the purse.

¶ 7 At trial, the State argued that the purse the officers searched was Hamilton's purse. The State pointed out that although she initially said the purse was not hers, Hamilton admitted that she had decided to keep it because it was cute. In closing argument, the State summed up its position: " What makes sense is that this is her purse, she keeps it in her car, she took it to her house that day, ... and most importantly, she put her personal belongings, rings, valuable pieces of precious metals, she puts them in there right next to her meth pipe." Report of Proceedings at 197. The State also expressly argued that Hamilton had the capacity to exclude other people from the purse.

¶ 8 The jury found Hamilton guilty as charged, and she appeals.


A. Unlawful Purse Search Argument Made for First Time on Appeal

¶ 9 Hamilton argues that we should reverse her conviction because the methamphetamine was obtained after a warrantless search of the purse and that no exception to the warrant requirement justified the search. However, during [179 Wn.App. 878] her motion to suppress, Hamilton argued only that the evidence should be suppressed because the officers ...

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