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State v. Longo

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

February 9, 2015

The State of Washington, Appellant ,
v.
Nicholas James Longo, Respondent

Appeal from Whatcom County Superior Court. Docket No: 12-1-01015-6. Judge signing: Honorable Deborra E Garrett. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: 06/18/2013.

David S. McEachran, Prosecuting Attorney, and Kimberly A. Thulin, Deputy, for appellant.

William J. Johnston, for respondent.

Authored by Marlin Appelwick. Concurring: J. Robert Leach, Michael S. Spearman.

OPINION

Page 379

[185 Wn.App. 806] Appelwick, J.

¶ 1 The State appeals the superior court's suppression of evidence and dismissal of criminal charges based on collateral estoppel from a related civil forfeiture proceeding. Bellingham police officers found a marijuana grow operation in Longo's home during the execution of a search warrant. The State brought criminal charges and the city of Bellingham initiated a civil forfeiture proceeding against him. In the civil forfeiture proceeding, Longo moved to suppress evidence of the marijuana. He argued that the warrant was not supported by sufficient probable cause that his marijuana grow operation violated the Washington State Medical Use of Cannabis Act.[1] The district court granted his motion to suppress and dismissed the civil forfeiture action. The superior court then found that it was bound under the collateral estoppel doctrine by the district court's decision that the underlying warrant was not valid. The superior court suppressed the evidence and dismissed the criminal charges. We reverse and remand.

FACTS

¶ 2 On September 11, 2012, Bellingham police officers executed a warrant to search Nicholas Longo's house. [185 Wn.App. 807] Inside, they found 180 marijuana plants growing in a sophisticated operation, including lights, watering systems, vents, and timers. They also found several pounds of packaged marijuana, packaging materials, and a digital scale. Longo was arrested and charged with one count of

Page 380

unlawful manufacturing of a controlled substance--marijuana and one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The city of Bellingham (City) also notified Longo that it sought forfeiture of $6,350 seized during the search.

¶ 3 In both the civil forfeiture proceeding and a criminal pretrial hearing, Longo moved to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the search. He argued that the 2011 amendments to the Washington State Medical Use of Cannabis Act (MUCA) made the medical use of marijuana a lawful act, rather than an affirmative defense. Longo asserted that, to lawfully search his house, officers needed probable cause that his suspected marijuana growing was not authorized under MUCA.

¶ 4 On January 18, 2013, the district court granted Longo's motion to suppress and dismissed the forfeiture action. The City abandoned its appeal and the dismissal became final.

¶ 5 Longo then moved to dismiss his criminal case, arguing that the superior court was collaterally estopped from reconsidering the validity of the search warrant. On June 18, 2013, the superior court granted Longo's motion to suppress on collateral estoppel grounds. The court ...


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