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The exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement applies where obtaining a warrant is not practical because the delay inherent in securing a warrant would compromise officer safety, facilitate escape or permit the destruction of evidence. The court has identified five circumstances from federal cases that could be termed exigent circumstances. They include (1) hot pursuit; (2) fleeing suspect; (3) danger to arresting officer or to the public; (4) mobility of the vehicle; and (5) mobility or destruction of the evidence. However, merely because one of these circumstances exists does not mean that exigent circumstances justify a warrantless search. A court must look to the totality of the circumstances in determining whether exigent circumstances exist.
An officer noticed that a vehicle driven by petitioner Micah Tibbles had a defective taillight. The officer stopped the car and, upon making contact with the petitioner, detected a strong odor of marijuana. At the officer’s request, petitioner provided his license. The officer asked petitioner to step out of the vehicle, and petitioner complied. The officer searched petitioner but did not find either marijuana or drug paraphernalia. The officer then proceeded to search the interior of petitioner’s car, where the officer found a paper bag containing marijuana, a knife, and two lighters. The State charged petitioner with misdemeanor possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Before his trial in district court, petitioner moved to suppress the evidence seized by the officer as the poisonous fruits of an illegal search. The district court denied the motion, concluding exigent circumstances justified the warrantless automobile search. Petitioner was convicted. Petitioner appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.
Should the evidence have been suppressed for being fruits of an illegal search?
The court reversed the denial of petitioner’s motion to suppress evidence, holding that the State did not show that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search of petitioner’s vehicle because (1) the State did not show any need for particular haste, as petitioner was not fleeing nor was there any showing that he presented a flight risk, (2) nothing showed that the destruction of evidence was imminent, as petitioner was outside the vehicle when it was searched, (3) it was not shown that obtaining a warrant was impracticable, and (4) the facts did not establish that the officer felt he or anyone else was in danger, given that petitioner was stopped for a defective taillight, alone, and was compliant with requests. The court adhered to the view that mere convenience was simply not enough. The warrantless search of petitioner’s car violated Wash. Const. art. I, § 7 because exigent circumstances were not shown.