State v. White, 47543-1

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Citation640 P.2d 1061,97 Wn.2d 92
Docket NumberNo. 47543-1,47543-1
PartiesThe STATE of Washington, Appellant, v. Allen WHITE, Respondent.
Decision Date18 February 1982

Page 92

97 Wn.2d 92
640 P.2d 1061
The STATE of Washington, Appellant,
Allen WHITE, Respondent.
No. 47543-1.
Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc.
Feb. 18, 1982.

Page 94

[640 P.2d 1063] Curtis M. Janhunen, Grays Harbor County Prosecutor, Stephen L. Olson, Deputy Co. Pros., Montesano, for appellant.

Farra & Godfrey, John L. Farra, Aberdeen, for respondent.

Page 95

WILLIAMS, Justice.

A transient, Allen White, was arrested by a Grays Harbor County deputy sheriff for violating RCW 9A.76.020(1) and (2), which make it a misdemeanor to "obstruct a public servant" by failing, "without lawful excuse", to provide true information "lawfully required" of an individual by a "public servant". After his arrest, White was held overnight in jail and subsequently confessed to burglarizing a garage and stealing food and other items which he was carrying at the time of his arrest. The trial court declared subdivisions 1 and 2 of RCW 9A.76.020 unconstitutionally vague, invalidated White's arrest, and granted White's motion to suppress the goods seized by the police and his confession given after arrest. The Court of Appeals, Division Two, certified the case to this court. We affirm.

The facts are as follows:

A deputy sheriff responded to a call from a resident that a suspicious, greasy-haired person was hanging around a neighborhood near the railroad tracks. When the deputy arrived, he saw Allen White carrying a large plastic garbage bag containing such items as kerosene, charcoal, magazines, and a skillet. The deputy noticed that the door of a nearby shed was hanging loose on its hinge. Mr. White was stopped by the officer and asked his name. He answered truthfully. He was then asked for identification, which he denied having. When asked where he lived, White answered evasively and pointed down the road toward some houses, but could not specify a particular house. The deputy then noticed a bulge in White's back pocket that appeared to be a wallet. The deputy testified that Mr. White then produced a British Columbia driver's license in the name of Allen White and stated, "I lied to you, I don't live anywhere." White was placed under arrest for violating RCW 9A.76.020(1) and (2). The next day, after spending a night in jail, he confessed to burglarizing the shed and taking the items seized by the officer.

RCW 9A.76.020 provides as follows:

Obstructing a public servant. Every person who, (1) without lawful excuse shall refuse or knowingly fail to

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make or furnish any statement, report, or information lawfully required of him by a public servant, or (2) in any such statement or report shall make any knowingly untrue statement to a public servant, or (3) shall knowingly hinder, delay, or obstruct any public servant in the discharge of his official powers or duties; shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

At issue in this case are the first two sections regarding failure "without lawful excuse" to provide true information "lawfully required" of an individual by a "public servant". A provision in RCW 9.69.060 similar to section 3 of RCW 9A.76.020 was previously upheld as it applies to conduct rather than speech. State v. Grant, 89 Wash.2d 678, 685-86, 575 P.2d 210 (1978). Although our holding in this case need not reach the issue, we presume the discussion in Grant upholding the provision regarding obstruction of an officer by conduct is similarly applicable to RCW 9A.76.020(3).


Whether RCW 9A.76.020(1) and (2)

are unconstitutionally vague.

The first issue we must resolve is whether criminal sanctions may be imposed upon an individual for failing to disclose correct information to a police officer. Independent of the "stop-and-identify" statute, RCW 9A.76.020, no grounds existed to justify respondent's arrest. There was no probable cause to believe respondent had committed a burglary or any crime other than that defined by the statute in question. It must be noted that although respondent was originally detained for obstructing a public servant, he was never formally charged under the statute. The effect of respondent's arrest for obstructing a public [640 P.2d 1064] servant was to permit the officer to detain him long enough to investigate and gather evidence against him for burglary.

The touchstone of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable police searches and seizures is the requirement that such invasions be based on "probable cause". Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 208, 99 S.Ct. 2248, 2254, 60 L.Ed.2d 824 (1979). Those cases authorizing

Page 97

"seizures" of persons on lesser cause are narrowly drawn and carefully circumscribed. See Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 92 S.Ct. 1921, 32 L.Ed.2d 612 (1972); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968); State v. Gluck, 83 Wash.2d 424, 518 P.2d 703 (1974).

Stop-and-identify statutes are recognized by some commentators as valuable tools to police in preventing and detecting crime and in giving additional authority to officers in sometimes dangerous street encounters. See Note, "Your Papers, Please."-Is an Identification Requirement Constitutional?, 37 Wash. & Lee L.Rev. 253-67 (1980). However, useful as they may be, statutes of this type can result in disturbing intrusions into an individual's right to privacy and can implicate other rights specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights. 1 For this reason, statutes in the nature of stop-and-identify statutes must be carefully and restrictively drawn.

In Bellevue v. Miller, 85 Wash.2d 539, 536 P.2d 603 (1975), we reviewed the Bellevue "wandering and prowling" ordinance and held it void for vagueness. 2 The term "unlawful

Page 98

purpose" was contained in that ordinance and we noted:

Legislation which purports to define illegality by resort to such inherently subjective terms as "unlawful purpose" ... permits, indeed requires, an ad hoc police determination of criminality.... The potential for arbitrary and discriminatory law enforcement under such legislation cannot constitutionally be tolerated.

Bellevue v. Miller, supra at 545, 536 P.2d 603. We went on to discuss the Fourth Amendment and other constitutional problems inherent in that ordinance, and the concerns expressed there are equally applicable to the legislation before us:

Such a basis for arrest, predicated upon nothing more than an officer's suspicion that a person has been involved in unlawful activity or prediction that the person will become involved in unlawful activity, contravenes the traditional reluctance in our jurisprudence to punish individuals for anticipated but as yet uncommitted, or suspected but unknown crimes.... Arrest must be grounded upon a more substantial basis than police hunch....

[640 P.2d 1065] Furthermore, if it is not the purpose then it is surely an important effect of legislation such as the Bellevue ordinance that the constitutional safeguard of requiring probable cause to arrest is circumvented. To sustain this ordinance

would be to allow a crime to be defined so as to render the requirement of probable cause to effect a valid arrest an illusory protection.... To say that an officer may arrest if he has probable cause to believe that the suspect's conduct is suspicious is to speak in anomalies.

(Citations omitted.) Bellevue v. Miller, supra 85 Wash.2d at 546, 536 P.2d 603. The Bellevue ruling was grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause, as is our ruling in the instant case.

A statute is void for vagueness under the Fourteenth Amendment if it is framed in terms so vague that persons

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of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application. Papachristou v. Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 92 S.Ct. 839, 31 L.Ed.2d 110 (1972); Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U.S. 611, 91 S.Ct. 1686, 29 L.Ed.2d 214 (1971); Winters v. New York, 333 U.S. 507, 68 S.Ct. 665, 92 L.Ed. 840 (1948); Bellevue v. Miller, supra; Seattle v. Drew, 70 Wash.2d 405, 423 P.2d 522, 25 A.L.R.3d 827 (1967). It is fundamental that no law may unnecessarily interfere with a person's freedom, whether it be to move about or to stand still. The right to be let alone is inviolate; interference with that right is to be tolerated only if it is necessary to protect the rights and welfare of others. See Papachristou v. Jacksonville, supra.

The statute involved here is defective both in the sense that it fails to give fair notice of what activities are required or forbidden and because it encourages arbitrary and erratic stops and arrests. Even if we assume that it is applied in good faith that police officers in general enforce laws with self-restraint and prosecutors apply the law fairly, the statute must fall. "Well-intentioned prosecutors ... do not neutralize the vice of a vague law." Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360, 373, 84 S.Ct. 1316, 1323, 12 L.Ed.2d 377 (1964).

The problems with the statute before us are obvious. For example, when must a citizen answer inquiries, and when does he have "lawful excuse" not to answer? What is "lawfully required" in the way of reports or information? May any "public servant", as defined in RCW 9A.04.110(22), demand information or only those charged with investigating or enforcing laws and regulations? May any citizen be stopped at any time-or only when there is suspicious conduct, or in high crime areas, or only in the course of investigating a suspected or known crime? The possible applications and interpretations are nearly endless. 3

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The determination of what information is "lawfully required" under this statute is a subjective one, left to the unfettered discretion of not only police officers, but virtually any public servant. Likewise, the term "lawful excuse" is nowhere defined in RCW Title 9A, and a citizen who is being questioned must necessarily guess as to whether his claim of privilege not to answer under the Fifth Amendment or pursuant to any other case or statutory exemption will be a "lawful excuse". The...

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