Warrantless search of dorm hallway unlawful absent consent; residents have reasonable expectation of privacy in floor hallway

State v. Houvener, Washington Court of Appeals, Division III, filed June 26, 2008.

Around 5:45 AM on February 11, 2006, campus police responded to a reported burglary on the third floor of a dormitory complex on the campus of Washington State University. The officer learned that the resident’s laptop computer and acoustic guitar had been stolen. Campus police initiated a search of the dormitory complex. Campus police started on the top of the complex, either the 12th or 13th floor, and walked the halls, eventually reaching the 6th floor.

Mr. Houvener and another person were in Mr. Houvener’s room on the 6th floor and the campus police heard voices and music which seemed suspicious around 6 AM. The police listened at the threshold and heard someone say he was paranoid they were going to be caught and a second voice say he didn’t think the victim would call the cops. The campus police officer put his finger over the peephole and tried a ruse to gain entry.  The residents ignored the ruse until the officer identified himself as a police officer and ordered them to open the door. Mr. Houvener opened the door. The officer, dressed in his police uniform and armed, asked Mr. Houvener to step into the hallway and down the hall with him. Mr. Houvener complied. Campus police asked Mr. Houvener questions and he made incriminating statements that some of the items in the room didn’t belong to him.

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Seizure of witness unlawful without exigent circumstances

State v. Dorey, Washington Court of Appeals, Division III, filed June 26, 2008.

Police received a complaint of a disturbance involving a black man and another man in a black shirt and arrived at the location. The disturbance was alleged to have occurred 5-10 minutes before the police officer arrived. Nothing was at the intersection. The officer went to a convenience store that was in the direction that one of the males had run and saw a car in the stall of a car wash and a male in a black shirt. The officer spoke to the clerk of the store, who knew nothing of the disturbance. The officer pulled his patrol car up to the man in the black shirt, Mr. Dorey, who was getting in his car to leave. The officer yelled at Mr. Dorey to hold on a minute and indicated that he wanted to talk to him. Mr. Dorey stopped his car and got out to speak to the officer.

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Protective sweep unlawful; no exigent circumstances when investigating “noise at vacant house”

State v. Ibarra-Raya, Washington Court of Appeals, Division III, filed July 1, 2008.

Around 2:00 AM, police received 911 call of noise from a vacant house. Police went out to investigate and saw lights on and heard party noises, but nothing alarming. Police saw a truck without a license plate, but with a temporary permit. Police learned thought the vehicle was stolen from California after processing the VIN number. When police knocked on the front door, the lights in the living room turned off. Another officer was on the side of the house and saw two men go into a room, come out of the room, and then open the back door. Police ordered the men to stay inside the house. Police followed the men inside the house and performed a protective sweep of the house, observing marijuana and cash. Officers also learned that only the license plates from the truck were stolen and that Mr. Ibarra-Raya was subleasing the house. Based on what the police saw during the protective sweep, police obtained a search warrant and later found cocaine, over $400,000 in plastic bags, and marijuana.

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Officer’s request for name in a parking lot not a seizure, but contact in public place

State v. Vanderpool, Court of Appeals, Division III, Docket No. 26402-5, decided June 10, 2008

Police officer performed random check of vehicle’s license observed driving in a parking lot, licensing records indicated that registered owner’s husband’s license was suspended. Police officer thought the driver was registered owner’s husband. The driver parked the vehicle, the police officer pulled behind the parked car, and asked the driver if he was the registered owner’s husband. He said he was not and gave his correct name, Mr. Vanderpool, and provided his ID. He told the officer that he didn’t have a driver’s license. Records showed that Mr. Vanderpool’s driver’s license was suspended. The police officer arrested Mr. Vanderpool and found methamphetamine search incident to the arrest.

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Private search doctrine doesn’t allow repairman to consent to police search

State v. Eisfeldt, Washington Supreme Court, Docket No. 79947-4, issued June 5, 2008

A repairman was called by a homeowner to repair a diesel spill in the home’s living room. A key was left under the mat for the repairman. The repairman went to the attached garage to ventilate the fumes, noticed sealant around the garage door, and broke the sealant to gain entry to the garage. He noticed what he believed was evidence of a marijuana grow operation, became suspicious, and contacted the police. He showed detective the diesel spill in the living room and the suspicious items in the garage. The detectives stopped the search and obtained a search warrant for the home. The police found what they believed was evidence of a marijuana grow operation.

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