presented with a question of first impression in Washington:
are warrantless, suspicionless, state courthouse security
screenings constitutional, particularly if they include a
search for controlled substances, either by design or as
carried out in a particular case?
Chelan County Superior Court refused to suppress
methamphetamine found in a pocket of Lanny Griffith's
coat in the course of security screening that took place at
the county courthouse. Applying well-settled law under the
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and a
novel question under the Washington Constitution, we hold
that if the security guard's action in removing
methamphetamine from the coat pocket was not cabined to the
scope of a permissible administrative search, the evidence
should have been suppressed. Because there is a factual
dispute whether the security guard's actions were
consistent with the county's security screening policy,
we remand for additional fact finding. Since the record
provides insufficient evidence of Mr. Griffith's
voluntary and knowing waiver of a jury trial, a new trial is
ordered in the event the suppression motion is denied
following the entry of additional findings.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
January 2017, Lanny Griffith went to the Chelan County
Superior Courthouse to make a payment toward legal financial
obligations (LFOs). He proceeded to the fifth floor, where,
in order to continue to the clerk's office, he had to go
through a security screening. The security screening station
was equipped with a magnetometer, which visitors were
required to pass through after first placing items from their
pockets in a basket. If a visitor set off the magnetometer,
they were scanned with a hand wand. There was no X-ray device
at the screening station, so bags and heavy coats were
subject to a manual search.
security officer on duty at the fifth floor security station
was private security guard James Mattix, who directed Mr.
Griffith to empty his pockets and take off his coat. When Mr.
Mattix searched the coat, he found a small clear ziplock bag
of what appeared to be methamphetamine in a pocket. Mr.
Mattix contacted his supervisor, Chelan County Deputy Sheriff
Elgin Shaw, to report the discovery. Upon arriving at the
security screening station and agreeing that the contents of
the ziplock bag looked like methamphetamine, Deputy Shaw
placed the bag in a locked desk and notified Wenatchee
police, who dispatched Officer Shawndra Duke to respond. The
contents of the bag proved to be methamphetamine, and the
State charged Mr. Griffith with one count of possession of a
controlled substance (methamphetamine).
Griffith moved to suppress the seized methamphetamine,
arguing that administrative weapons searches that have a dual
purpose of searching for drugs violate the Fourth Amendment
and article 1, section 7 of the Washington State
Constitution. At a two-day CrR 3.6 hearing, the trial court
heard extensive testimony from Mr. Mattix, from Deputy Shaw,
and from Officer Duke.
unchallenged findings of fact by the trial court summarize
most of the relevant evidence presented at the hearing:
1. On January 6, 2017, Mr. Lanny Griffith entered the 5th
Floor of the Chelan County Superior Courthouse;
2. Upon entering the 5th Floor from either the stairs or the
elevator, Mr. Griffith would have seen the sign, a picture of
which was admitted as Exhibit 1, informing him that all
visitors were subject to security screening;
3. Any individual not desiring to pass through screening may
leave at any time back down the stairs or elevator prior to
passing through the magnetometer;
4. Security screenings are conducted by private security
officers who are trained and supervised by Chelan County Jail
Deputy Elgin Shaw to search for weapons;
. . . .
6. Mr. Griffith approached the security screening station,
staffed by private security officer James Mattix;
7. Mr. Mattix observed that Mr. Griffith wore a heavy
8. Although not a formal policy or directive, Mr. Mattix
uniformly requires all individuals with heavy jackets to
remove the jacket for individual screening before the
individual passes through the magnetometer;
9. Mr. Mattix uniformly requires the same for all briefcases,
purses, backpacks, and other containers;
10. In the present case, Mr. Mattix asked Mr. Griffith to
remove and handover the jacket for screening and Mr. Griffith
11. While hand-searching the outside of the jacket, Mr.
Mattix felt a soft bulky object in one of the pockets and
12. The object was a plastic baggie containing a small amount
13. There is some dispute whether Mr. Mattix also removed a
cell phone from that same pocket in that Mr. Mattix testified
that he did, but Officer Duke and Deputy Shaw testified that
Mr. Mattix had told them that the cell phone had been handed
over prior to the coat search; . . . .
15. Some individuals are allowed to pass through security
without undergoing screening, including mail and parcel
delivery personnel, the local legal process server, the local
bail bondsman, on-duty law enforcement officers, and current
county employees; [and]
16. Although not in writing, these exceptions are authorized
by the County Commissioners and security screening personnel
do not have discretion to except other individuals, nor is
there evidence that the screening personnel vary from these
Papers (CP) at 37-38.
disputed evidence noted in finding 13 had to do with Mr.
Mattix's testimony at the suppression hearing that the
reason he reached into Mr. Griffith's coat pocket was
because he felt a hard object that turned out to be Mr.
Griffith's cell phone. Officer Duke and Deputy Shaw
provided conflicting testimony; both testified that in
speaking with Mr. Mattix on the day the methamphetamine was
seized, he told them Mr. Griffin had placed his wallet and
cell phone in a basket before handing over his
trial court's finding 14, one of three findings
challenged on appeal, states:
14. The Court does not resolve th[e] dispute of fact [over
whether Mr. Mattix had already removed a cell phone from the
pocket] because the Court does not believe it necessary for
Shaw testified during the CrR 3.6 hearing that he trains
security officers to have people remove their coats,
excluding suit jackets, and to physically check the coats and
to reach into a pocket "[i]f they feel something rigid
or hard, that could be a weapon." Report of Proceedings
at 50. He testified he instructs his officers that "[i]f
it isn't rigid, and you cannot believe it might be a
weapon, then you're not to reach in that pocket."
Id. at 69. He testified that if the security
officers find drugs, they are to lock the drugs in a desk at
the security station and call him, which was the procedure
followed by Mr. Mattix.
Mattix testified that when he is searching someone's
coat, his "main goal" is to look for weapons, later
explaining that while his "primary purpose is to search
for weapons," his secondary purpose is contraband.
Id. at 36, 38. He testified that when checking the
pockets of a coat, he will feel and "[i]f there's
anything hard, that's going to lead me to the pocket,
I'm going to check the pocket. If there's nothing
there, there's no reason to check the pockets."
Id. at 10. Later, however, he testified that even if
he feels something soft, he is "still going to
look." Id. at 38. Asked why, he said:
"Curiosity. Got to know what it is." Id.
Mr. Mattix testified to his understanding of the dangers of
certain drugs- in particular, fentanyl. He testified that
based on his personal reading and research on fentanyl, he
believed "it would take just a couple micrograms, to
drop me on the floor, overdose." Id. at 41. He
testified that the security company for which he worked had
trained him to recognize marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine,
cocaine, LSD,  and psilocybin. He acknowledged that he
had received no training on chemical or biological weapons.
conclusion of the suppression hearing, the trial court orally
denied the motion to suppress. In written findings and
conclusions entered thereafter, the trial court gave two
reasons for its conclusion that the search was valid. The
first was that Mr. Griffith impliedly consented to the
search, since he had the opportunity to leave rather than be
searched and had willingly relinquished his coat to Mr.
Mattix. The second was that the search was a valid
administrative search under the federal and state
constitutions because it was conducted as part of a uniform
process for searching for weapons and other dangerous
objects, Mr. Mattix lacks discretion on who to search, and
the discovery of drugs was incidental to a search for
dangerous objects. Citing State v. Book, 165 Ohio
App.3d 511, 2006-Ohio-1102, 847 N.E.2d 52, the trial court
concluded that modern drugs such as fentanyl pose a
sufficient danger to the public to justify being the object
of an administrative search in a courthouse in and of
the decision on the suppression motion, Mr. Griffith agreed
to a stipulated facts trial. He did not sign a waiver of
trial by jury or agree in open court to waive his jury trial
right. The trial court clearly assumed there had been a
waiver of jury trial and, after considering the stipulated
facts, it found Mr. Griffith guilty as charged. Mr.
Griffith's sentence was stayed pending this appeal.
Griffith assigns error to the trial court's denial of his
motion to suppress and to its finding him guilty following a
stipulated facts trial, absent a valid waiver of his
constitutional right to trial by jury. We address his
challenge to the ...