WA: Blood was apparent in plain view on def’s clothing in hospital room

“¶1 David Morgan was convicted by a jury of first degree assault, attempted murder, and arson. A bloodstain pattern analysis performed on his clothing suggested he was in close proximity to the victim when she suffered her injuries. We must decide if the warrantless seizure of his clothing, which officers reasonably concluded contained evidence, was justified by an exception to the warrant requirement. ¶2 Based on our inconsistent articulation of the plain view doctrine, the Court of Appeals found that the State was required to establish inadvertence as a separate element and reversed Morgan’s convictions. We hold inadvertence is not a separate element required under the plain view doctrine, reinstate Morgan’s convictions, and remand to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings in that court.” State v. Morgan, 2019 Wash. LEXIS 324 (May 16, 2019):

¶14 Objects are immediately apparent under the plain view doctrine “when, considering the surrounding circumstances, the police can reasonably conclude” that the subject evidence is associated with a crime. State v. Hudson, 124 Wn.2d 107, 118, 874 P.2d 160 (1994) (citing Lair, 95 Wn.2d at 716). Certainty is not necessary.

¶15 Morgan’s clothing was expected to be in the hospital room and was detectable in the plastic hospital bags on the counter. Officer Breault’s supervising officer, having become aware of the evidentiary value of Morgan’s clothing—including that it smelled like gasoline—instructed Officer Breault to collect it. Without examining the clothing, Officer Breault reasonably concluded that Morgan’s clothing would have evidentiary value given the conversation he had had with Morgan and observations he made during that time, including a knife with dried blood on the handle.

¶16 In light of the fire, Brenda and Morgan’s respective injuries, the supervising officer’s knowledge, and observations by Officer Breault and others, there were more surrounding circumstances than necessary. Officer Breault did not have to manipulate the bags to know what they contained. He reasonably concluded that the clothing contained evidence associated with suspected criminal activity. Nothing in this record suggests any ambiguity; it is clear from context that the plastic hospital bags contained the clothing hospital staff removed in treating Morgan. Thus, the State met its burden to show that Officer Breault lawfully seized Morgan’s clothing under the plain view doctrine.

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