Anne Alexander appeals her conviction for possession of a
controlled substance. She argues that the trial court erred
by not suppressing evidence found during a warrantless search
of a backpack that was sitting behind her at the time of her
arrest. Because the State failed to establish that Alexander
had actual and exclusive possession of the backpack at or
immediately preceding her arrest, we agree and reverse.
15, 2017, Officer Troy Moss of the Everett Police Department
responded to a trespass report at 901 West Casino Road in
Everett. There, he observed a man and a woman, later
identified as Delane Slater and Heather Alexander, sitting in
an undeveloped field marked with "no trespass"
signs. Officer Moss identified himself as law enforcement at
some distance and observed Slater and Alexander manipulating
some unknown items on the ground. Officer Moss approached
Slater and Alexander, who remained seated by a log
approximately three or four feet apart from each other.
Moss informed Slater and Alexander that they were trespassing
and obtained their identification. When Officer Moss
conducted a records check on Alexander, he learned that she
had an active Department of Corrections (DOC) warrant. A
records check on Slater yielded no results.
interacting with Alexander, Officer Moss observed a pink
backpack sitting directly behind Alexander. The backpack was
close enough to Alexander that it appeared to be touching her
back. When Officer Moss asked Alexander whether the backpack
belonged to her, she indicated that it did.
Moss confirmed the DOC warrant and placed Alexander under
arrest. At this point, Officer Moss did not believe that he
had probable cause for any other offense. Because Alexander
was being arrested, Slater offered to take Alexander's
backpack with him. Alexander indicated to Officer Moss that
it was her desire for Slater to take the backpack. Officer
Moss informed Slater that Alexander's personal property
would be searched incident to arrest and that it would remain
with her at that time. He asked Slater to leave the scene and
indicated that "Slater did not do anything to cause
[Officer Moss] safety concern." Slater left without
Moss took Alexander into custody and walked Alexander and her
backpack to his patrol vehicle. Alexander was cooperative
throughout this course of action. Officer Moss seated
Alexander in his patrol vehicle and placed her backpack on
top of the trunk. He then searched the backpack and located
items containing what he believed to be a controlled
substance. Officer Moss informed Alexander that he was
additionally arresting her for possession of a controlled
substance and advised her of her
State charged Alexander with possession of a controlled
substance, committed while on community custody. Prior to
trial, Alexander moved to suppress the evidence found during
Officer Moss's warrantless search of her backpack,
arguing that the search did not fall within any valid
exception to the warrant requirement. The trial court denied
Alexander's motion and entered findings of fact and
conclusions of law. A jury later found Alexander guilty as
charged. Alexander appeals.
argues that the warrantless search of her backpack was not a
valid search incident to arrest, and thus the trial court
erred by not suppressing the fruits of that search. Because
the search was not a valid search of Alexander's person
incident to arrest and the State does not argue that any
other warrant exception applies, we agree.
reviewing the denial of a suppression motion, this court
ordinarily "determines whether substantial evidence
supports the challenged findings of fact and whether the
findings support the conclusions of law." State v.
Garvin. 166 Wn.2d 242, 249, 207 P.3d 1266 (2009). But
here, Alexander does not challenge any of the trial
court's findings of fact. Accordingly, they are verities
on appeal, and the sole issue before this court is whether
the trial court's findings support its conclusions of
law. State v. Acrey. 148 Wn.2d 738, 745, ...