Appeal from Yakima Superior Court. Docket No: 13-8-00128-5. Judge signing: Honorable Richard Bartheld. Judgment or order under review. Date filed: 04/10/2013.
Janet G. Gemberling (of Janet Gemberling PS ); and Jill S. Reuter ( Nichols Law Firm PLLC, of counsel), for appellant.
Joseph A. Brusic, Prosecuting Attorney, and David B. Trefry, Deputy, for respondent.
Authored by Robert E. Lawrence-Berrey. Concurring: Laurel H. Siddoway, Stephen M. Brown.
[187 Wn.App. 477] Robert
E. Lawrence-Berrey, J.
¶ 1 Warrantless searches of constitutionally protected areas are presumptively unreasonable absent proof by the State that one of the well-established exceptions apply. In this case, a police officer detained A.A., a runaway juvenile, under the Family Reconciliation Act, chapter 13.32A RCW, and then conducted a pat-down search before placing him in his patrol car. The officer did not feel anything resembling a weapon but searched inside A.A.'s pants pockets and found methamphetamine and marijuana. On appeal, A.A. argues that the trial court erred in denying his CrR 3.6 suppression motion because the State failed to establish that the search fell under any exception to the warrant requirement. We agree and reverse.
¶ 2 On the morning of February 25, 2013, A.A.'s mother called Yakima police to report that her 15-year-old son, A.A., had run away from home. She told the responding police officer, Cesar Escamilla, that she believed A.A.'s probation [187 Wn.App. 478] officer would issue a warrant for A.A.'s arrest, and asked the officer to transport A.A. to the Crisis Residential Center (CRC), a secure facility for juveniles, if police found him. Later that day, Officer Escamilla found A.A. walking down an alley a few blocks north of his mother's house. The officer stopped and detained A.A., intending to take him to the CRC. Aware that the CRC had a policy of searching all youth before admitting them to the facility, Officer Escamilla searched A.A. near his patrol car. During the search, the officer found methamphetamine in a coin pocket of A.A.'s pants and marijuana in another pocket. The officer then transported A.A. to a juvenile detention center rather than the CRC. The State charged A.A. with two counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance.
¶ 3 A.A. moved to suppress the evidence as the product of an unlawful search. At the CrR 3.6 hearing, Officer Escamilla testified that A.A. was " [j]ust walking down an alley" and appeared " upset," but that he was not engaged in criminal activity and did not appear dangerous to himself or others. Report of Proceedings (RP) at 12-13. He testified that Yakima Police Department policy requires police to search a passenger for weapons prior to transport in a patrol car but admitted that his search of A.A. was more intrusive because the CRC does not allow narcotics. He explained, " I'm searching for any objects, any items that--youth may have either in his pockets, hidden, anything besides clothing." RP at 9. Officer Escamilla admitted that he did not feel anything resembling a weapon during the pat-down search and that no CRC staff member was present.
¶ 4 A.A. argued that the officer could lawfully conduct a pat-down search for weapons prior to transporting A.A. to the CRC but that the search into his pockets exceeded the [187 Wn.App. 479] scope of a reasonable pat-down for weapons. He argued, " [J]ust because the CRC has a policy regarding searches does not mean that that trumps the--my client's constitutional rights. [I]f they want to do whatever they need to do to keep their facility safe, they can do that. However, to require law enforcement to do that is clearly unconstitutional because that does not fit an exception of the--the requirement to have a warrant before searching my client's person." RP at 23. The State countered that " a second search would happen anyway" and that " [t]he justification for the search was in existence at the time respondent was taken into custody. He was going someplace secure; he needed to be searched." RP at 28, 26.
¶ 5 The trial court denied A.A.'s motion to suppress. Its written conclusions of law provided in part (1) a civil commitment search is not limited to patting the detained person for weapons, (2) the pat-down search was authorized under Terry, (3) a civil commitment search has the purpose of protecting both the police officer and the affected individual, (4)
it was reasonable to search A.A. knowing he was going to be transported to the CRC where drugs and weapons are contraband and not allowed, and (5) the search was conducted as a result of a civil detention, not as a search incident to arrest. The court ultimately concluded that " it was reasonable to conduct the search, either at the time [A.A.] was taken into custody or at the time of admission at the CRC." Clerk's Papers at 55.
¶ 6 In a stipulated facts bench trial, the trial court found A.A. guilty as charged. A.A. appeals the denial of ...