WA: Was a courthouse security search that turned up drugs properly limited? Remanded for more fact finding

An issue that hasn’t appeared in appellate decisions for a while: May a jacket be searched for drugs at courthouse security? Not here, but more fact finding required. The CSO felt a cell phone to remove it from a pocket, but felt drugs instead. State v. Griffith, 2019 Wash. App. LEXIS 3236 (Dec. 31, 2019):

We are presented with a question of first impression in Washington: are warrantless, suspicionless, state courthouse security screenings constitutional, particularly if they include a search for controlled substances, either by design or as carried out in a particular case?

The Chelan County Superior Court refused to suppress methamphetamine found in a pocket of Lanny Griffith’s coat in the course of security screening that took place at the county courthouse. Applying well-settled law under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and a novel question under the Washington Constitution, we hold that if the security guard’s action in removing methamphetamine from the coat pocket was not cabined to the scope of a permissible administrative search, the evidence should have been suppressed. Because there is a factual dispute whether the security guard’s actions were consistent with the county’s security screening policy, we remand for additional fact finding.

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