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State v. Richards

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

October 29, 2019

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
RACHEL DARSHELL RICHARDS, Appellant.

          MAXA, C.J.

         Rachel Richards appeals her conviction of unlawful possession of heroin.[1]She argues that the trial court erred by not suppressing evidence that police officers seized in a search incident to her arrest. We hold that the officers did not exceed the scope of a lawful search incident to arrest when they searched a closed pouch in Richards's purse that she was carrying at the time of arrest. Accordingly, we affirm Richards's conviction.

         FACTS

         On November 11, 2017, a loss protection officer at a retail store in Woodland, observed Richards placing store merchandise into her purse. The officer approached Richards after she left the store without paying for the items in her purse. Two police officers, who were waiting outside, detained Richards and escorted her to the loss protection office. There, the officers arrested Richards and searched her purse.

         During the search of the purse, the officers discovered the stolen merchandise and a closed, zippered pouch. They opened the pouch and searched it, looking for theft tools used for removing secure access devices. The pouch contained drug paraphernalia, foil residue, straws, and syringes.

         The State charged Richards with unlawful possession of heroin. Richards filed a motion to suppress the contents of the pouch found in her purse. The trial court considered the evidence set out above and denied the motion. The court gave an oral ruling, but did not enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         Richards subsequently was convicted of possession of heroin. She appeals her conviction.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         When reviewing a trial court's denial of a CrR 3.6 motion to suppress evidence, we determine whether substantial evidence supports the findings of fact and whether those findings of fact support the conclusions of law. State v. Russell, 180 Wn.2d 860, 866, 330 P.3d 151 (2014). Substantial evidence is evidence that is sufficient to persuade a fair-minded person of the truth of the finding. Id. at 866-67. We review conclusions of law de novo. Id. at 867.

         Here, the trial court did not make written findings of fact or conclusions of law as required by CrR 3.6. Although failure to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law is error, such error is harmless if the trial court's oral findings are sufficient to permit appellate review. State v. Weller, 185 Wn.App. 913, 923, 344 P.3d 695 (2015). We conclude that the trial court's error is harmless here.

         B. Scope of Search Incident to Arrest

         Richards argues that the officers' warrantless search of the closed pouch in ...


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