A Yakima County man earned a reprieve Tuesday from a five-year sentence for drug possession when appellate judges ruled a search of his bag by deputies was unlawful, despite his admission he possessed methamphetamine.
Heath Wisdom was pulled over near Moxee, Washington, in October 2010 driving a truck and towing an all-terrain vehicle, both of which were reported stolen. Yakima County Sheriff's Deputy Nate Boyer found a pipe used to smoke methamphetamine on Wisdom, according to court documents. After reading Wisdom his Miranda rights, Boyer asked if there was methamphetamine in the truck, and Wisdom told him it was lying on the front seat, according to court documents. Boyer found a zipped-up "shaving kit-like" bag in the cab, which he opened to discover meth, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and $2,700 in cash.
Wisdom petitioned the court to throw out that evidence, saying the search of the bag was made without a warrant. Two judges on a three-member appellate panel, who heard the case in December, agreed and reversed Wisdom's conviction.
"Despite the banality ofthe facts, this appeal raises a fundamental question concerning whether Washington State will be a police state, in which law enforcement officers employ their own discretion when determining to search property, or a state under the rule of law with magistrates prejudging the validity of police searches," wrote Washington Appellate Judge George B. Fearing for the majority.
In dissent, Judge Kevin Korsmo said the decision "boggles the mind."
"A thief does not have a privacy interest in stolen property that society should recognize as reasonable and, thus, Mr. Wisdom had no standing to contest the inventory search," Korsmo wrote.
The opinion was published Tuesday and will stand as precedent pending an appeal to the Washington Supreme Court or another case overturning the findings.