Monday, February 21, 2011

State v. Ortega

State v. Ortega involved RCW 10.31.100 (Arrest without a warrant) and “the fellow officer rule.”

One common law rule is that an police officer may only arrest a person without a warrant if the person commits a felony or commits a misdemeanor in the presence of the arresting officer. Washington law essentially codifies this rule in RCW 10.31.100, but with a variety of exceptions.

Ortega was arrested for the misdemeanor of drug traffic loitering under Seattle's municipal code. One officer observed what he believed was Ortega committing this misdemeanor. That officer, who was doing surveillance, called other police officers to arrest Ortega. They did. Ortega was searched incident to arrest and cocaine was found on him. His motion to suppress was denied.

Ortega argued that the arresting officer did not have authority to arrest him because he did not commit the misdemeanor in the arresting officer's presence. Therefore, the State had violated RCW 10.31.100. The Court of Appeals rejects this argument because the observing officer maintained view of Ortega and confirmed the other officers had arrested the people had called to be arrested. Thus the observing officer was basically an arresting officer because he directed the arrest and maintained contact with the officers who actually did arrest Ortega.

The court declines to adopt the fellow officer rule in the misdemeanor context, which the State had argued applied here. The fellow officer rule is that where police officers are acting together as a unit, the cumulative knowledge of all the officers involved in the arrest may be considered in deciding whether probable cause exists to arrest a suspect. The court reasons that the fellow officer rule was not available at common law and has not been extended to the misdemeanor context under RCW 10.31.100 or by the Washington Supreme Court.

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