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October 11, 2013 at 6:00 AM
I greet with some consternation the Washington Supreme Court ruling that police officers’ license to search people extends to their purse, even if the purse is not on their person but nearby.
Long story short. Police arrested a woman in 2009 who was a passenger in a car with stolen license plates. The officer handcuffed her and placed her in the back of the cruiser and then returned to the car and searched her purse, finding methamphetamine.
A Yakima County Superior Court judge ruled the meth couldn’t be used at trial because the officer didn’t have a warrant to search her purse. A state appeals court agreed. But the state’s highest court Thursday reversed the lower courts, saying that because the purse was in the woman’s lap when she was arrested, it was an article of her person under the long standing “time of arrest” rule.
The upshot: In the eyes of law enforcement, I am my purse. Search one, search the other. I was afraid this would happen one day.
First, I admire anyone who would not give up seconds after trying to search through my over-sized purse. I’m leery about sticking my own hand in there. I have found old lunches in my purse. I once cut my finger on a knife stored next to a dehydrated grapefruit I forgot to eat. I routinely lose small objects, keys, etc., in the inner folds of my purse. On a positive note, when I recently forgot a canvas bag at the grocery store, my purse worked just as well. So now police can search me and it.
Justice Debra Stephens, writing for the majority, said that in the Yakima case, the purse was initially on the woman’s lap and thus should be considered part of her person. Justice Mary Fairhurst disagreed, arguing that these kinds of searches are meant to protect officers from any hidden weapons or prevent someone from destroying evidence.
But once the woman was handcuffed and sitting in the police cruiser, there were no security concerns that would justify searching her belongings without a warrant.
This case was not a slamdunk. At a hearing on a motion to suppress the meth as evidence, it was argued that it was obtained in violation of the woman’s Fourth Amendment protections against “unreasonable” searches and seizures. Indeed, the trial court conceded that “[t]he facts here fall slightly outside of being completely on point with” two past precedent setting cases, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Arizona v. Gant ruling and the high court’s own ruling in State v. Valdez.
A 5-4 decison means the court was clearly conflicted. What’s your take on the court’s ruling?
October 1, 2013 at 8:15 AM
In “Breaking Bad” a Washington state drama, Walter White’s blue meth would’ve been the bomb 10 years ago.
That’s when, by some measures, meth peaked as the drug of choice. It was an “epidemic” in news reports (including mine).
But meth’s decline has skipped notice. Like Walter White (no spoilers), meth skipped town, but is still dangerous.
The Department of Ecology spill response section’s 20 years of data on methamphetamine contamination sites is the best single measure of the rise and fall of local meth production (above). When state troopers or rural cops bust a lab, the guys in yellow from the DOE show up (click here for county-level data). The past several years aren’t on the chart, but spill response manager David Byers reports that the trend continued: 95 in 2010; 46 in 2011; 84 in 2012; and 37 through August 2013.
Another measure — state hospital admissions with amphetamine diagnosis — tracks a similar pattern (right).
This trend reflects huge emphasis and resources — and a smarter strategy than just busting down meth-lab doors. Local police tracked meth-lab cooks as if they were mafia kingpins. And Washington in 2010 joined at least 18 other states in a national effort to track, via pharmacy sales, the precursor ingredients used to manufacture meth.
All this is not to say meth has vanished, like Saul Goodman’s vacuum-cleaner guy’s deluxe package. This report from University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute shows that meth is the fourth-leading drug cited as primary for King County treatment admissions in 2012 (alcohol 3,438; heroin 2,064; marijuana 1,834 and meth, 955). But the curve has been bent.
You know what hasn’t changed? Government’s willingness to spend money fighting a shrinking meth trade. Sen. Patty Murray “saved” the state meth initiative in 2010 with a $2.2 million federal appropriation.
DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Hank Schrader would be proud.