State v. Crane, 24572-8-II.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Washington
Citation19 P.3d 1100,105 Wn. App. 301,105 Wash. App. 301
Docket NumberNo. 24572-8-II.,24572-8-II.
PartiesSTATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Shawn O. CRANE, Appellant.
Decision Date16 March 2001

John Lester Farra, Ocean Shores, for Appellant.

William Anton Leraas, Grays Harbor Dep. Pros. Atty., Montesano, for Respondent.


Shawn O. Crane appeals a conviction of possession of cocaine, claiming that the police discovered the drugs illegally. Because the officer who stopped Crane lacked a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal conduct, the stop violated Crane's constitutional rights. Consequently, we reverse.


On February 28, 1999, Police Officer Green was in his parked patrol car monitoring a house in the city of Aberdeen. He had instructions to maintain the "status quo" while other officers obtained a warrant to search the residence for stolen property. Green's sergeant had specifically directed Green to identify anyone attempting to enter or leave the residence.

At about 4:30 a.m., Green observed a car pull into the residence's driveway. Robert Stopsen was driving and Crane and William Bryan were in the passenger seats. Green did not know any of the three men.

Green pulled his patrol vehicle into the driveway behind Stopsen's car as the three men started to approach the residence. After exiting his car, Green either asked or told the men to stop. They did so and walked toward Green. Crane testified that Green had motioned to them to approach him, and he used a "real demanding voice."

At that point, a woman came out of the house and asked Green what was happening. Green "explained to her that she was to stay inside and not come back out, and that [the police] weren't allowing people to come in and out of the residence, because [they] were in the process of obtaining a warrant [.]" Report of Proceedings at 7.

Green then asked Crane and the other two men where they were going. Crane replied that his half-brother was in trouble and he was "going to get his stuff." Crane's half-brother was Jarrod Airington, a resident of the house who had been arrested earlier in the evening.

In response to Green's request for identification, Crane provided his Quinault Tribal Identification, Stopsen provided some form of identification, and Bryan said that he did not have any identification with him but his name was James Bryan. According to his later testimony, Crane did not feel free to leave at this point. Green testified that he was "identifying everybody" because his sergeant had told him to do so and that he had no specific reason to request identification from Crane.

While Green stood with the three men, holding Crane and Stopsen's identification cards, he used his hand-held radio to call for a warrants check on Crane. The warrants check took only a couple of minutes and revealed a municipal court warrant for Crane. Green then arrested Crane.

Before being handcuffed, Crane removed his wallet from his back pocket and asked if he could give it to Bryan. Green said no and instructed Crane to place the wallet on the top of Stopsen's car. Crane complied.

Green started to search Crane when he noticed that Bryan had taken Crane's wallet off the car. Green ordered Bryan to put the wallet back on the car and Bryan complied. Green then noticed a small plastic baggie on the ground in front of Bryan and saw Bryan place his foot on top of the baggie. A field test indicated that the baggie contained cocaine.

After Green advised Crane of his rights, Crane gave a statement about the drugs. The State then charged him with possession of cocaine.

Crane argued at a hearing on his motion to suppress the cocaine that he was illegally seized when Green asked for identification and conducted a warrants search. The trial court denied the motion to suppress and, at a stipulated facts trial, found Crane guilty of possession of cocaine.

On appeal, Crane assigns error to several findings, but focuses his argument on finding III. He also challenges numerous conclusions of law. He contends that his contact with Officer Green, which led to the discovery of the cocaine, amounted to an illegal seizure in violation of both the Washington and United States constitutions.


When reviewing the denial of a suppression motion, we determine whether substantial evidence supports the findings of fact and then determine whether the findings support the conclusions of law. State v. Dempsey, 88 Wash.App. 918, 921, 947 P.2d 265 (1997); State v. Hill, 123 Wash.2d 641, 644, 870 P.2d 313 (1994). Whether a seizure occurred is a mixed question of law and fact. We give the trial court's factual findings great deference but ultimately must decide as a question of law whether those facts constitute a seizure. Our review of this question is de novo. State v. Thorn, 129 Wash.2d 347, 351, 917 P.2d 108 (1996).

In his challenge to the findings, Crane basically claims that Green "told" him rather than "asked" him to stop, and "demanded" rather than "requested" identification. These challenges pertain to finding of fact III, which states:

Officer Green observed a car turn into the driveway at the residence without signaling. The driver was identified as Robert O. Stopsen. The passengers were the defendant and William D. Bryan. The two passengers approached the house; [Officer] Green asked them to stop and they both turned and walked towards him. Green asked all three if he could see their ID. Stopsen and Crane both provided theirs. Bryan stated that he did not have any ID and he gave the name of James Bryan.

Clerk's Papers at 20.

Substantial evidence is evidence in the record of a sufficient quantity to persuade a fair-minded, rational person of the truth of the finding. Hill, 123 Wash.2d at 644, 870 P.2d 313 (citing State v. Halstien, 122 Wash.2d 109, 129, 857 P.2d 270 (1993)). It is the trial court's role to resolve issues of credibility, weigh evidence, and resolve differing accounts of the circumstances surrounding the encounter and the reviewing court gives deference to these determinations. State v. Barnes, 96 Wash.App. 217, 222, 978 P.2d 1131 (1999); Russell v. Dep't of Human Rights, 70 Wash.App. 408, 421, 854 P.2d 1087 (1993).

The record supports the trial court's finding that Green "requested" rather than "demanded" identification from Crane. Green testified several times that he "asked" Crane and the others if he could see some identification. Crane also testified that Green "asked" for identification. There is no testimony indicating that Green demanded identification at any time.

The record is less clear about whether Green "asked" or "told" Crane to stop as he was approaching the house. Green testified at one point that he asked the men to stop. But later he testified that he believed he "told" them to stop: "I believe when they started walking to the house I told them to stop." Crane testified that Green said "stop" in a demanding tone of voice. But giving deference to the trial court and given the confusion in the record, we cannot say that the trial court erred in finding that Green "asked" Crane to stop.

We next consider Crane's challenge to conclusions of law II through XI. Conclusions of law II through VI accurately reflect current law, and conclusions of law IX and XI are not at issue here. The critical challenges are to conclusions of law VII, VIII, and X.

Conclusion of Law VII
The officer's brief questioning of the defendant, his request to see his ID and his brief retention of the ID for purposes of running a warrants check did not convert this contact into a seizure and was lawful.

Conclusion of Law VIII

Officer Green's contact with the defendant prior to his arrest did not amount to a seizure. Objectively, the defendant was free to leave. Following the discovery of the warrant for the defendant's arrest, he was lawfully arrested.
Conclusion of Law X

The controlled substances were validly seized.

Clerk's Papers at 24.

When the police execute a search warrant, they may stop and question persons approaching the place to be searched to determine their business at that location and to prevent them from interfering with the search. State v. Melin, 27 Wash.App. 589, 592, 618 P.2d 1324 (1980). But there is no authority allowing police to question persons approaching a scene where the police have not yet obtained a warrant. Further, even where there is a warrant, such a limited stop "is not a license to detain and frisk all persons approaching within 100 feet of the location of [a] search in the absence of an articulable reason to believe the individuals have committed a crime." Melin, 27 Wash.App. at 592, 618 P.2d 1324 (citing Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85, 100 S.Ct. 338, 62 L.Ed.2d 238 (1979)). See also State v. Lewis, 19 Wash.App. 35, 573 P.2d 1347 (1978)

(holding defendant's detention lawful where defendant resided at residence subject to a search warrant, was found outside working on a car that had been identified as connected to criminal activity, and was suspected of armed robbery).

The requirement that an officer have a reasonable articulable suspicion before seizing a suspect helps achieve an overall balance between the needs of the police to conduct investigations and the constitutional protections of important liberties:

There is an understandable desire by police officers to investigate what appear to be suspicious circumstances. Those investigations, however, must comport with Fourth Amendment protections. Otherwise, when a stop is not based on specifically articulated facts, "the risk of arbitrary and abusive police practices exceeds tolerable limits."

State v. Thompson, 93 Wash.2d 838, 843, 613 P.2d 525 (1980) (quoting Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 52, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 61 L.Ed.2d 357 (1979)).1 Although in this case the search warrant had not yet been issued, we believe the same Fourth Amendment standards apply.2

Crane argues that Officer Green seized him either...

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