Washington Law Review


Miriam Metz


In State v. Ringer, the Washington Supreme Court announced two new constitutional rules for police searches and seizures. First, police arresting a suspect in a car may search the suspect and the area within the suspect's immediate control for weapons or evidence, but may not search the area beyond the arrestee's reach. Second, unless there are exigent circumstances that justify their dispensing with a warrant, police with probable cause to search a lawfully stopped vehicle must obtain a warrant before conducting a search. Various public officials and organizations have criticized Ringer, castigating the Washington Supreme Court for being soft on crime and for ignoring the clear pronouncements of the United States Supreme Court. While careful analysis of Ringer refutes the first of these criticisms, there is no question that the Washington court broke with recent federal case law in its analysis and holding. Justice Dolliver, writing for the seven-member majority, admitted this frankly and announced that federal case law was irrelevant because the court based its analysis solely on the state constitution. This Note analyzes the basis for and propriety of the Washington court's deviation from United States Supreme Court case law and the court's interpretation of the state constitution. Further, it discusses Ringer's significance in light of other Washington search and seizure cases that rely on the state constitution. Finally, this Note discusses the implications of nonuniformity between federal and Washington search and seizure law in cases in which the federal and state law enforcement systems cooperate.

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