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State v. Wasbotten

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

May 31, 2016


         Appeal from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. CR2015-102100-001 The Honorable John Rea, Judge

         Maricopa County Attorney's Office, Phoenix By Gerald R. Grant Counsel for Appellant

         The Law Offices of David A. Black, Phoenix By David A. Black Counsel for Appellee

          Presiding Judge Peter B. Swann delivered the opinion of the court, in which Judge Lawrence F. Winthrop and Judge Donn Kessler joined.


          SWANN, Judge

         ¶1 The State of Arizona appeals the trial court's suppression of contraband discovered in an inventory search of a rental truck. First, the state argues that Douglas Christian Wasbotten had no standing to challenge a search of a rented vehicle when he was not an authorized driver under the rental agreement. Second, the state argues that the rental truck was properly impounded under A.R.S. § 28-3511, and the search was a valid inventory search. We hold that a driver of a rental vehicle, driving with the renter's permission but not authorized by the rental agreement, is not per se without standing to challenge a search of the vehicle. But we also hold that A.R.S. § 28-3511, which requires impoundment of a vehicle driven by a person with a suspended or revoked license, does not require that the person be driving at the moment the vehicle is stopped. Shortly before the rental truck in this case was stopped, a renter with an invalid license was observed driving it. The impound and inventory search here were therefore lawful. We reverse the suppression order.


         ¶2 The facts are not in dispute. On July 31, 2014, Wasbotten was the passenger in a rented truck that Jennifer Daniels was driving. She pulled the truck into a gas station, and they switched places. Wasbotten then drove the truck out of the gas station. After Wasbotten rolled through a stop sign, an officer, who had also observed them pull into the gas station and switch places, pulled them over. The officer discovered that Daniels had rented the truck, but she had a suspended license. And while Wasbotten had a valid license, he was not authorized to drive by the rental agreement. The officer arrested Daniels, impounded the truck, and performed an inventory search.

         ¶3 In the course of the search, the officer found a baggie containing what he believed to be methamphetamine and a syringe filled with a clear liquid. Wasbotten was then arrested. The officer testified that in an interview after his arrest, Wasbotten admitted the methamphetamine and syringe belonged to him. He was charged with possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

         ¶4 Wasbotten moved to suppress the methamphetamine and paraphernalia found in the truck. He argued that because A.R.S. § 28-3511 states that law enforcement may impound the vehicle if "[a] person is driving" with driver's license suspended or revoked, the unlicensed driver must be driving at the time of the stop. (Emphasis added.) Because Wasbotten -- not Daniels -- was driving with a valid license at the time of the stop, he contends that the officer could not legally have impounded the vehicle. If the impound was not legal, he reasons, the inventory search would not have been legal, and any evidence obtained from the search should be suppressed. The state contested Wasbotten's standing to challenge the search, on the ground that Wasbotten had no possessory interest in the truck and therefore had no reasonable expectation of privacy.

         ¶5 The court, following the Ninth Circuit's decision in United States v. Thomas, 447 F.3d 1191 (9th Cir. 2006), ruled that Wasbotten had standing to challenge the search because he had "permission [to drive the vehicle] granted by the authorized renter." The court also concluded that the impoundment was illegal because A.R.S. § 28-3511 requires that law enforcement stop a driver with the suspended or revoked license while she is driving as a precondition to impounding her vehicle. The court granted Wasbotten's motion to suppress and the state successfully moved to dismiss the case.



         ¶6 The Fourth Amendment entitles "people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. amend. IV. A person's Fourth Amendment rights do not depend solely on property rights but rather on a "legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded place." Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 143 (1978). Because Wasbotten was not authorized by the rental agreement to ...

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