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Washington high court affirms search protections

OLYMPIA — Police in Washington need a warrant to search a car for evidence after someone has been taken into custody, the state Supreme Court ruled.

The 8-1 decision Thursday reversed convictions for two men who were arrested after traffic stops when police searched their cars and found drugs. The ruling recognizes the state constitution affords residents more privacy protections than are guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment shield against illegal search and seizure, The Seattle Times reported today.

The justices rejected arguments from prosecutors around the state who warned that forcing officers to obtain warrants to search a car after every arrest will be time-consuming.

“These delays will only multiply if a warrant is required for every stop at 2 a.m. on a Friday night in which the officer concludes it is reasonable to believe there is evidence of the crime of arrest in the vehicle,” wrote James Whisman, a senior deputy prosecutor with the King County Prosecutor’s Office. “Scores of such arrests occur in any given jurisdiction in any 24-hour period.”

A lawyer for one of the defendants said the justices were only following a long practice of extending additional privacy protections to Washington residents.

“This is not a new direction,” said Lila Silverstein, an attorney with the Washington Appellate Project. “It’s terrific that our court holds these protections in such regard.”

Police in Washington need a warrant to go through someone’s garbage or look through a hotel directory, while federal law allows police to do those things without a warrant, she said.

The decision sends both cases back to trial courts. Defense lawyers argued the searches were illegal and evidence found in the cars not admissible.

A Washington State Patrol trooper arrested Daniel Snapp in 2006 after a stop for a faulty seat belt. A search of his car turned up a crack pipe, drugs and evidence of identity theft.

Seattle police stopped Roger Wright in 2006 for driving without his lights on. A search of the car turned up marijuana, Ecstasy and $1,300 cash.