asked to answer two questions under article I, section 7 of
our state constitution: first, whether defendants have
standing to challenge the scope of a warrantless inventory
search of a vehicle when that vehicle is stolen and, second,
whether a proper inventory search extends to opening an
innocuous, unlocked container of unknown ownership found in a
stolen vehicle associated with defendants who were
apprehended while burglarizing a home. We hold that the
defendants have automatic standing to challenge the search
and that the search of the innocuous container was lawful
under these circumstances. We reverse the Court of Appeals
and uphold the denial of the motion to suppress.
Friday, January 23, 2016, Michael Peck and Clark Tellvik were
seen on a security camera, burglarizing a home. The owner of
the home was demonstrating her home's new surveillance
system to a friend on her phone when she saw the crime in
progress. She called 911, and officers arrived at the home
officers arrived, a Dodge Dakota pickup truck was stuck in
the snow in front of the house. Peck and Tellvik were outside
the truck, trying to free it from the snow. The officers
contacted Peck and Tellvik, frisked them, and detained them.
Additional responding officers arrived within minutes, ran
the registration of the vehicle, and discovered it was
stolen. At this point, it was about 1:21 a.m. The officers
arrested Peck and Tellvik for possession of a stolen vehicle.
Peck and Tellvik were read their
Miranda rights, Peck agreed to speak with an
officer. Peck said he had been picked up earlier in the day
in the Dodge Dakota pickup by Tellvik. Peck told the officer
that he had never seen Tellvik drive the pickup and that
Tellvik started it with a screwdriver.
officer asked if Peck and Tellvik had gone in any of the
buildings or the house. Peck assured the officer that they
had not. The officer also asked Peck if he had anything in
the vehicle. After some equivocation, Peck said that a cell
phone, a car battery, and a small bag of tools belonged to
him. Peck told the officer that the vehicle was not running
well, so they brought the battery and tools just in case the
truck broke down. Peck told the officer nothing else in the
truck belonged to him.
after the officer was done talking with Peck, the homeowner
arrived. She confirmed with the police officers that she did
not know either Peck or Tellvik and that they did not have
permission to be on her property. She also confirmed that her
outbuilding, which was open, had been locked when she left.
When asked about the battery and the bag of tools Peck
claimed, the homeowner said they were hers and that they had
been stored in the outbuilding. The officers found a pry bar
in the snow beneath the Dodge Dakota's driver's side
door and it appeared from the latch and door of the
outbuilding that it had been pried open. The officers
accompanied the homeowner into the outbuilding and determined
that somebody had been inside.
and Tellvik were taken from the scene. Because the pickup was
stolen and stuck on private property, the officers impounded
the vehicle and called for a tow truck. Before the tow truck
arrived, an officer conducted an inventory search. When asked
at trial why he inventoried the vehicle, the officer
A: We want to make sure there's nothing inside that
vehicle that the owner could be held responsible for if
it's illegal. We don't want to return any drugs, any
weapons, anything with that vehicle that shouldn't be in
it. We want to go through the inside of the vehicle, make
sure there's nothing unsafe, nothing illegal in there.
Q: Okay. All right. So that's one-that's one purpose
for it. And, what's another purpose for an inventory
A: Another purpose, to inventory what items are in the
vehicle. Another purpose also is if you get an occupied
stolen to remove the property of the-occupants, so it's
not returned to the owner of the vehicle.
Q: Okay. And-when you want to make a list of the stuff, what
- what purpose does that serve?
A: To show a list of what was in the vehicle.
Q: Okay. And why would you-why would you care?
A: Just in case someone claims that their diamond ring was
left in that car and now it's gone.
Q: Okay. So, -so who does it protect?
Q: And by everyone, it protects-the sheriffs office?
A: Sheriffs office, the registered owner, the other folks who
have property inside that vehicle, their property isn't
given away to someone it's not supposed to.
Q: And how about the tow company?
A: It also protects the tow company, yes.
Transcript of Proceedings (VTP) (May 10, 2016) at 104-05.
When asked if searching for something specific, the officer
A: No. The main thing with one of these searches is to make
sure you haven't got something dangerous that can go back
to the owner. A good example is a case they had in Seattle
recently where a stolen Jeep was returned to the owner, and
it's full of used hypodermic needles. The last thing I
want is to hop into my rig and reach down-seats and get-poked
by somebody's (inaudible). And I'd feel the same
way-any vehicle that we return to an owner.
Id. at 107. During the inventory search, the officer
discovered that the ignition was punched out. The officer saw
a "black zippered nylon case" that seemed to hold
CDs (compact disks), and opened it. Id. at 418. When
asked why he opened it, he responded, "No telling what
could be in it." Id. at 108. And he further
testified that "I didn't know if it belonged to the
owner of the truck. It could very well have registration
documents in it. It could have belonged to one of the
subjects that were there that night." Id. at
the black zippered nylon case was packaged methamphetamine,
an electronic scale, and a smoking pipe. The State charged
Peck and Tellvik with several crimes, including possession of
a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Peck and
Tellvik moved to suppress the contents of the black zippered
nylon case. The trial court denied the motion to suppress,
finding the inventory search to be proper and finding no
evidence of pretext. See id. at 191-92 (oral CrR 3.6
ruling) ("I didn't see anything out of the ordinary
here that would make me think that [the officer] was trying
to use the inventory search to try to-bypass a warrant
requirement."). Peck and Tellvik were subsequently
convicted. Both appealed their controlled substance
convictions. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial
court's denial of the motion to suppress. We granted
and Tellvik challenge the proper scope of a warrantless
inventory search, and the State challenges their ability to
make such a claim. This case presents only questions of law,
which we review de novo. State v. Valdez, 167 Wn.2d
761, 767, 224 P.3d 751 (2009) (citing State v.
Carneh, 153 Wn.2d 274, 281, 103 P.3d 743 (2004)).
we must decide whether the defendants have standing to
challenge the search. The State argues Peck and Tellvik do
not have standing because a thief should have no privacy
interest that overrides that of the true owner. But in our
state, a defendant has automatic standing to challenge a
search if (1) possession is an essential element of the
charged offense and (2) the defendant was in possession of
the contraband at the time of the contested search or
seizure. State v. Simpson, 95 Wn.2d 170, 175, 622
P.2d 1199 (1980) (plurality opinion). And a defendant has
automatic standing to challenge the legality of a seizure
'"even though he or she could not technically have a
privacy interest in such property.'" State v.
Evans, 159 Wn.2d 402, 406-07, 150 P.3d 105 (2007)
(quoting Simpson, 95 Wn.2d at 175). The rule applies
to searches as well as seizures. See, e.g., State v.
Allen, 93 Wn.2d 170, 172-73, 606 P.2d 1235 (1980).
and Tellvik have automatic standing to challenge the
inventory search. The first prong of the test is satisfied
because both were charged with possession of a controlled
substance with intent to deliver. See RCW
69.50.401(1). The second prong is satisfied because Peck and
Tellvik were in possession of the truck up until the time of
the search. As such, Peck and Tellvik have automatic standing
to challenge the warrantless inventory search of the black
zippered nylon case. The dissent claims that we
"eviscerate automatic standing." Dissent at 15.
We do not. Peck and Tellvik have automatic standing to
challenge the admission of evidence found during the
inventory search. Because we find Peck and Tellvik have
automatic standing to challenge the inventory search, we
address the propriety of the search.
analysis of article 1, section 7 in Washington begins with
the proposition that warrantless searches are unreasonable
per se." State v. White, 135 Wn.2d 761, 769,
958 P.2d 982 (1998) (citing State v. Hendrickson,
129 Wn.2d 61, 70, 917 P.2d 563 (1996)). Despite the strict
rule, a warrantless search is valid if one of the narrow
exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. Id.
The exceptions are '"carefully drawn and jealously
guarded.'" State v. Byrd, 178 Wn.2d 611,
616, 310 P.3d 793 (2013) (quoting State v. Bravo
Ortega, 177 Wn.2d 116, 122, 297 P.3d 57 (2013)).
those narrow exceptions is a noninvestigatory inventory
search. Inventory searches have long been recognized as a
practical necessity. State v. Tyler, 177 Wn.2d 690,
700-01, 302 P.3d 165 (2013) (citing State v. Gluck,
83 Wn.2d 424, 428, 518 P.2d 703 (1974)). To be valid,
inventory searches must be conducted in good faith and not as
a pretext for an investigatory search. Id. at 701
(citing State v. Houser, 95 Wn.2d 143, 155, 622 P.2d
searches are also limited in both scope and purpose. As we
held in Tyler, "Warrantless inventory searches
are permissible because they (1) protect the vehicle
owner's (or occupants') property, (2) protect law
enforcement agencies/officers and temporary storage bailees
from false claims of theft, and (3) protect police officers
and the public from potential danger." Tyler,
177 Wn.2d at 701 (citing White, 135 Wn.2d at
769-70). "Unlike a probable cause search and
search incident to arrest, officers conducting an inventory
search perform an administrative or caretaking
function." State v. VanNess, 186 Wn.App. 148,
162, 344 P.3d 713 (2015) (citing State v. Smith, 76
Wn.App. 9, 13, 882 P.2d 190 (1994)). Here, because we are not
faced with a locked container, we do not opine on the
propriety of law enforcement's opening of a locked
container in the context of an inventory search. Peck and
Tellvik argue there is no constitutional difference between a
locked container and one that is merely closed.
Resp't's Suppl. Br. (Tellvik) at 8 (citing State
v. Wisdom, 187 Wn.App. 652, 675-76, 349 P.2d 953 (2015);
Houser, 95 Wn.2d at 158; White, 135 Wn.2d
at 771-72). Having examined the three cases cited, we
in Houser, the defendant was charged with two counts
of possession of a controlled substance. Houser, 95
Wn.2d at 145. The charges were based on drugs found by police
after impounding the defendant's vehicle. The police
opened the locked trunk and searched a shopping bag, within
which was a closed toiletry bag that the police also opened
and found drugs. Id. at 146-47.Contending that
the evidence obtained during the inventory search should have
been suppressed by the trial court, the defendant challenged
the propriety of the impoundment as well as the scope of the
search. We held (1) the impoundment was unconstitutional, (2)
opening the locked trunk in the course of an inventory search
was unconstitutional, and (3) opening the closed luggage
within the locked trunk was unconstitutional.
Houser, 95 Wn.2d at 153-59.
third holding is pertinent here: "where a closed piece
of luggage in a vehicle gives no indication of
dangerous contents, an officer cannot search the contents of
the luggage in the course of an inventory search
unless the owner consents." Houser, 95 Wn.2d at
158 (emphasis added). When read in context, two things are
clear: (1) the Houser court, similar to the
Wisdom court, relied heavily on the personal and
private nature of luggage and (2) based on the personal and
private nature of luggage, the court announced a rule
regarding only luggage, not all closed containers.
Indeed, in coming to the holding, we framed the issue as
"the issue of whether the contents of unlocked
luggage found within an automobile may be examined
in the course of an inventory search." Houser,
95 Wn.2d at 156-57 (emphasis added). And to be sure, we
emphasized the privacy interests in personal luggage by
contrasting other types of closed containers and packages
"e.g., a kit of burglar tools or a gun case, "
which do not implicate the same privacy interests.
Houser, 95 Wn.2d at 157. Finally, the closed luggage
was removed from the locked trunk of an unlawfully impounded
vehicle, and the owner did not consent to the search of his
luggage. Here, there was no closed luggage, and the
closed nylon case was not found in the defendant's
vehicle's locked trunk--it was found in the passenger
compartment of a known stolen vehicle with shattered back
windows and a punched-out, screwdriver-started ignition that
was properly impounded. We did not announce a categorical
rule against opening closed containers in the course of an
inventory search, and given the vastly different facts,
Houser does not control.
in Wisdom, the Court of Appeals focused on the
intimate nature of the closed container in question before
finding that "a zipped shaving kit bag found on the seat
of a truck" should have been suppressed.
Wisdom, 187 Wn.App. at 657. Relying on
Houser, the court stated that "Washington
courts recognize an individual's privacy interest in his
closed luggage, whether locked or unlocked."
Wisdom, 187 Wn.App. at 670 (emphasis added) (citing
Houser, 95 Wn.2d at 143). The court focused on the
privacy interest in a purse "because of the secrets
obtained therein" and likened rummaging through a purse
to rummaging through a shaving kit. Id. And finally,
a "citizen places personal items in luggage in
order to transport the items in privacy and with
dignity." Id. at 675 (emphasis added). The
Wisdom court, similar to the Houser court,
placed great emphasis on the intimate nature of the closed
shaving kit bag-considerations that do not arise here.
third, in White, we considered whether officers
could lawfully open the locked trunk of a vehicle during an
inventory search. White, 135 Wn.2d at 763-64.
Specifically, we considered whether a trunk release mechanism
diminished an individual's privacy interest in a locked
trunk. Id. at 767. We found it did not. We
restricted our holding to law enforcement's opening of
the locked trunk and explicitly declined to opine on the
opening of a closed container found therein. White,
135 Wn.2d at 772 ("We do not address the impound issue
or the search of the closed tackle box because the
permissible scope of an article I, section 7 inventory search
has been exceeded.").
emphasized the significance of the trunk being locked, and
held, "Whether a locked trunk is opened by a key or a
latch, it is still locked." Id at 767-68. And
therefore, "We hold the use of the trunk release
mechanism in this case is still the warrantless search of a
locked trunk, which brings this case squarely under the
[second] holding of Houser." Id. But a locked
trunk is not at issue here. As such, like Houser,
White does not control. We reject Peck and Tellvik's
attempt to treat the nylon case as a locked container.
this was a proper inventory search turns, in part, on the
context here. First, the police knew the vehicle was stolen.
Second, Peck and Tellvik were arrested while in the process
of burglarizing a home and were observed taking items from
the home and its surroundings. Responding officers testified
that a purpose in conducting an inventory search of the truck
was to determine ownership of both the truck and its various
contents. See VTP (May 10, 2016) at 104-05. Third,
the search was not pretextual. And finally, the innocuous
nature of the container at issue is important: a nylon case
that looked like it contained CDs does not possess the same
aura of privacy as a purse, shaving kit, or personal luggage.
Under these circumstances, it was proper for police to do
more than merely inventory the unlocked nylon case as a
first purpose of an inventory search is to protect the
owner's property. Tyler, 177 Wn.2d at 701. It
would undermine this purpose to require the case to be
inventoried simply as a closed container. Here, there was no
readily available way to know who the owner of the property
was. The only people present at the time of the arrest were
Peck and Tellvik, and Peck disclaimed ownership of most of
the property inside the stolen vehicle. The property could
belong to any number of people, including the stolen
vehicle's owner, the owner of the burglarized home, or
even Peck and Tellvik. In Houser, a case that did
not involve a stolen vehicle, we deemed intrusion into a
car's unlocked glove compartment "reasonable in
light of the valid objectives of an inventory search because
documents of ownership and registration are customarily
stored in the glove compartment and it often serves as a
place for the temporary storage of valuables." 95 Wn.2d
at 155. Under these circumstances, neither logic nor
experience illuminates a difference between an unlocked glove
compartment and an unlocked nylon case.
second purpose of an inventory search is to protect bailees
from the true owners' claims that their property was
damaged after it was taken into police custody.
Tyler, 177 Wn.2d at 701. Under these
circumstances-where it is clear the car was stolen and the
ownership of its contents was unknown-a full accounting of
the containers' contents is a reasonable way to safeguard
bailees. Additionally, inventorying the contents protects the
vehicle's owner from being presented with drugs, guns, or
property that simply does not belong to them when the stolen
vehicle is returned. Perhaps most importantly, one of the
officers testified that the container "could very well
have registration documents in it." VTP(May 10, 2016) at
practical reasons, an inventory search of a vehicle known to
be stolen is simply different from other inventory searches.
Cf. State v. Lynch, 84 Wn.App. 467, 477-78, 929 P.2d
460 (1996) (quoting 3 Wayne R. LaFave, Search and Seizure
§ 7.4(e) at 568 (3d ed. 1996)). The totality of the
circumstances reasonably informs the legitimate scope of the
inventory. In such cases, there is a need to know who owns
the vehicle and who owns its contents in order to do an
adequate inventory. We conclude that under these
circumstances, a proper inventory search of a stolen vehicle
extends to opening unlocked, innocuous closed containers in
order to determine ownership. We emphasize that this limited
proper purpose cannot be used as a pretext for an
investigatory search. Our holding is limited to cases where the
circumstances strongly indicate that ownership is unknown.
Here, where the vehicle was stolen, Peck and Tellvik were
arrested immediately outside of a home that they were
currently burglarizing, and the trial court explicitly found
no evidence of pretext, the search was proper.
that under the facts of this case, the search was a lawful
inventory search. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of
Appeals and uphold the denial of the motion to suppress.
McCLOUD, J. (dissenting)
purses, briefcases, backpacks, gym bags, diaper bags, pill
boxes, CD (compact disk) holders, and other closed containers
subject to warrantless search when the police impound a
person's property? Our prior decisions compel us to
answer no. Article I, section 7 of the Washington
Constitution protects the privacy of those items because they
are the people's "private affairs."
majority comes to a different conclusion for two reasons: (1)
although it claims to adhere to our constitutionally
compelled automatic standing rule, the majority effectively
holds that these defendants are not entitled to standing
because they were accused of stealing the truck containing
the sealed container and (2) although it claims to adhere to
our prior decisions limiting the inventory exception to the
warrant requirement, the majority silently overrules our two
controlling cases-White and
Houser-barring the police from opening sealed
containers (absent evidence of danger) in this situation.
cannot agree with the majority's approach. It conflicts
with our distinct method of article I, section 7 analysis by
replacing it with Fourth Amendment reasonableness analysis.
U.S. CONST, amend. IV. And though the majority purports to
apply our automatic standing doctrine, it essentially
eliminates it for defendants accused of crimes with an
element of illegal possession-the very scenario that the
automatic standing doctrine was designed to address. This
dilutes the article I, section 7 privacy protections to which
Washingtonians are entitled.
follow-and reaffirm-our prior decisions that protect
Washingtonians' constitutional right to privacy. I
therefore respectfully dissent.
and Procedural History
Enforcement's Response to a Reported Theft, the Discovery
of a Stolen Vehicle, and the Warrantless Search
Zach Green and Deputy Dan Kivi, two Kittitas County sheriffs
deputies, responded to a suspected theft in progress at a
home in rural Ellensburg. Peck Verbatim Transcript
of Proceedings (PRP) (May 10, 2016) at 23-24;
Tellvik Verbatim Report of Proceedings (TRP) (May
10, 2016) at 73-74. When the deputies arrived, they
discovered two individuals outside the home, along with a
pickup truck stuck in the driveway's unplowed snow. PRP
(May 10, 2016) at 25-26, 161; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 75-76,
213. The deputies handcuffed the two men and eventually
learned that they were Michael Peck and Clark Tellvik. PRP
(May 10, 2016) at 166; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 219.
more deputies then arrived. One of them, Deputy Michael
McKean, entered the pickup truck's license plate into a
law-enforcement database and learned that the truck had been
reported stolen. PRP (May 10, 2016) at 30; TRP (May 10, 2016)
at 80. Meanwhile, Deputy Kivi and the fourth deputy on the
scene, Deputy Mark Rickey, gave
Miranda advisories to Peck and Tellvik.
chose to speak with Corporal Green. PRP (May 10, 2016) at
30-31, 77-78; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 80-81, 129-30. Peck
initially told Corporal Green that nothing in the truck
belonged to him. PRP (May 10, 2016) at 37-38; TRP (May 10,
2016) at 87-88. However, he then clarified that actually, a
cell phone in the cab and a battery and bag of tools in the
bed belonged to him. PRP (May 10, 2016) at 37-38; TRP (May
10, 2016) at 87-88. "As far as the inside of the truck,
other than his cell phone he told [Corporal Green] that
nothing in that truck belonged to him." PRP (May 10,
2016) at 37-38; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 88. Deputy McKean, who
would later inventory the truck, did not hear that statement,
though. PRP (May 10, 2016) at 109; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 161.
chose to speak to Deputy Rickey. PRP (May 10, 2016) at 77-82;
TRP (May 10, 2016) at 128-33. Deputy Rickey did not ask him
whether anything in the truck belonged to him. PRP (May 10,
2016) at 77-82; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 128-33.
Corporal Green and Deputy Rickey transported Peck and Tellvik
to jail, Deputy Kivi and Deputy McKean stayed behind to deal
with the truck. Because the truck was stuck in the snow and
located on private property, the decision had been made to
impound the vehicle. PRP (May 10, 2016) at 41-42; TRP (May
10, 2016) at 91-92.
waiting for a tow truck to arrive, Deputy Kivi and Deputy
McKean "[methodically" searched the pickup. PRP
(May 10, 2016) at 107; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 159. They did so
without obtaining a warrant because, as they explained, they
believed that Peck and Tellvik did not have a reasonable
expectation of privacy in a stolen vehicle. PRP (May 10,
2016) at 42, 49, 115, 118; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 92, 100,
168, 171. But they did not attempt to obtain consent from the
person who had reported the pickup truck stolen, either. PRP
(May 10, 2016) at 61-62; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 113. According
to the deputies, most owners of stolen vehicles are not
troubled to learn that the police have searched their vehicle
without permission. PRP (May 10, 2016) at 64, 118-19; TRP
(May 10, 2016) at 116, 171.
the search, Deputy McKean discovered a black zippered nylon
case "partially wedged under the [passenger-side]
seat." PRP (May 10, 2016) at 108; TRP (May 10, 2016) at
160-61. From the outside, the case looked like a CD case. PRP
(May 10, 2016) at 108; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 161. Deputy
McKean, who still had not obtained a warrant and still did
not know that Peck had implicitly disclaimed ownership of the
items inside the vehicle, opened the case. PRP (May 10, 2016)
at 109, 115; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 161, 168. He discovered
methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia inside. PRP (May 10,
2016) at 109-10; TRP (May 10, 2016) at 162.
Proceedings in the Superior Court
State charged Peck and Tellvik with several crimes, including
possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of a controlled
substance with intent to deliver. Peck Clerk's
Papers (PCP) at 212-14 (Second Amended Information);
Tellvik Clerk's Papers (TCP) at 219-21 (same);
see also RCW 9A.56.068 (criminalizing possession of
a stolen ...