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State v. Walls

Court of Appeals of Oregon

March 14, 2018

STATE OF OREGON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
ALICIA ROSE WALLS, aka Alica Rose Walls, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and submitted January 19, 2017

         Multnomah County Circuit Court 14CR25011; David F. Rees, Judge.

          Laura E. Coffn, Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant. With her on the briefs was Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Criminal Appellate Section, Offce of Public Defense Services.

          Keith L. Kutler, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the briefs were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General.

          Before Ortega, Presiding Judge, and Egan, Chief Judge, and Allen, Judge pro tempore.

         Case Summary:

         Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for unlawful possession of methamphetamine, assigning error to the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress evidence that was discovered in her purse after police stopped a car in which she was a passenger. According to defendant, when she asked the officer to remove her purse from the car and he refused, the purse was unlawfully seized because the officer lacked probable cause to believe it contained evidence of a crime. Held: The trial court did not err. Based on the totality of circumstances, the officer had probable cause to believe that the car and the containers inside the car contained contraband, and because defendant's request to remove the purse from the car created an exigency, the officer lawfully seized the purse before obtaining a warrant.

         Affirmed.

         [290 Or.App. 736] ORTEGA, P. J.

         Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for unlawful possession of methamphetamine, ORS 475.894, assigning error to the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress evidence discovered in her purse after police stopped a car in which she was a passenger. Defendant asserts that the officer unlawfully seized her purse, lacking probable cause to believe that it contained evidence of a crime, and thereby violated her rights under Article I, section 9, of the Oregon Constitution. The state counters that the officer developed probable cause to believe that the car contained illegal substances and, because defendant failed to prove that she had a possessory interest in the purse, the officer lawfully seized it as a container in the car until he could obtain a warrant. In reviewing the denial of the motion to suppress for legal error, State v. Ehly, 317 Or. 66, 74-75, 854 P.2d 421 (1993), we conclude that because the officer had probable cause to seize the car and the containers inside it, the purse was lawfully seized pursuant to the exigency exception to the warrant requirement. Accordingly, we affirm.

         We state the relevant facts consistently with the trial court's findings that are supported by evidence in the record. Ehly, 317 Or. at 75. Several law enforcement officers, including Detective Fields, were conducting surveillance of a house where they believed a wanted fugitive was hiding. While they were watching the house, a white Escalade circled the neighborhood three times and then parked around the corner from the house and waited, raising the officer's suspicions. Shortly thereafter, an officer saw two people leave the house-one of them matching the description of the wanted fugitive-and head toward the Escalade. The officers could not see if they got into the Escalade, but officers heard the tires squeal and, when they approached the area, the Escalade and both people were gone. Fields testified that in his experience investigating fugitives facing serious charges, it is "not uncommon to * * * [see] a vehicle that would come, circle a neighborhood, make sure there were no police, make sure no one [was] around, check things out, stop away from the location, *** in case anyone was watching the house * * *. And then the car takes off." Other [290 Or.App. 737] officers caught up with the Escalade and observed it making numerous evasive maneuvers, eventually crashing into the side of a building.

         After the crash, officers approached the Escalade, which contained three passengers along with the driver. Defendant, the front-seat passenger, fled on foot as soon as the car stopped, but, almost immediately, she complied with the officers' request to stop and return to the car. The officers discovered large sums of cash on the driver and the wanted fugitive, and a "user amount" of heroin on the fugitive. The officers were aware that both the fugitive and the driver had past convictions for delivery of controlled substances. They allowed the other female passenger in the back seat to leave after she consented to a search of her purse and Fields found nothing illegal in it.

         Fields also told defendant that she was free to leave. Defendant asked if she could have her purse, which was located on the floorboard of the front seat. Fields reached into the car, removed the purse, but did not hand it to defendant because it was heavy. He suspected that, because of the weight, some type of "dense metal" was in the purse. Fields also noticed a small padlock on the purse, which he thought was unusual. He asked defendant to consent to a search, but she refused. He told her that he wanted to search the purse because he had to ensure that there were "no guns or drugs or anything like that" after discovering that other people in the car had cash and drugs on them. At the suppression hearing, Fields testified that, based on his experience, it is common for one person to pass along contraband to another person in a car when the car is stopped. He told defendant that if there was nothing in the purse, he would give it back to her and she could leave. Defendant continued to refuse consent and, when she continued to ask for her purse, Fields responded that he would arrest her for trespassing. Defendant then left. Fields obtained a search warrant for the car and the containers inside it, which included defendant's purse, and the ensuing warrant search revealed methamphetamine and a handgun in the purse. Defendant was charged with possession of methamphetamine.

         [290 Or.App. 738] At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the parties argued about whether Fields had probable cause to seize defendant's purse and whether the search warrant was valid. Although the state challenged defendant's possessory interest in the purse, the court did not explicitly decide that issue; it did conclude that, regardless of defendant's possessory interest in the purse, "there was probable cause for retaining the bag pending [an] application for a search warrant, and * * * the warrant was validly issued." Based on the totality of the circumstances, including "the evasive behavior or the evasive maneuvering of the vehicle" and "the people inside it, " the court concluded that "it was * * * objectively reasonable for the officers to conclude that there ...


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