Margi A. Mock, Assistant Public Defender, Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.
Eric A. Ringsmuth, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecution and Appeals, Anchorage, and Daniel S. Sullivan, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: COATS, Chief Judge, and MANNHEIMER and BOLGER, Judges.
The police detained Marteshia Clark as a passenger in a reportedly stolen vehicle. The police searched the vehicle, finding packets of cocaine in a metal cigarette case left on the backseat. Clark challenges the superior court's conclusion that the search was justified as a consent search and a search incident to arrest. We conclude that the police were authorized to open the cigarette case based both on the vehicle owner's consent to a general search and on the circumstances suggesting that the case had been left on the backseat of a stolen vehicle.
On January 19, 2006, Susan Roatch notified the Fairbanks Police Department that her car had been stolen. Talking with Officer Avery Thompson, Roatch implicated a woman named Crystal in the theft. While Thompson was talking with Roatch at her home, Roatch's boyfriend, Jack Brown, telephoned to report that he had found her vehicle parked on a street in downtown Fairbanks. The officers then drove to the location where Brown had seen the car and parked approximately half a block away from the vehicle to see if any of the possible suspects would return to the car.
About fifteen minutes later, Marteshia Clark and Crystal Thomas approached the stolen car. Thomas matched the physical description given by Roatch. Thomas got into the driver's seat and Clark sat in the passenger seat. Officer Thompson activated the patrol car's overhead lights, drew his weapon, and he and Officer Benjamin Holston directed the women to get out of the
car. The officers handcuffed Clark and Thomas and searched the women for weapons. Officer Thompson put Thomas into the back of the patrol car, and when Officer Bruce Barnett arrived on the scene, the officers placed Clark in the back of the second patrol car.
After advising Thomas of her Miranda rights, Officer Thompson asked her about her relationship with Roatch. Thomas said that she had known Roatch for three months, and that Roatch had given her permission to use the car.
Officer Thompson then spoke with Roatch, who had arrived at the scene, and she denied giving Thomas permission to use the vehicle. Roatch then gave Officer Thompson permission to search her vehicle for illegal drugs or weapons. Officer Thompson found clothing, fast food containers, a cell phone, trash, and a metal cigarette case which was decorated with a design of marijuana leaves and a " rasta character." Roatch denied ownership of a majority of the items in the car, including the cigarette case.
The cigarette case was sitting on the backseat of the car. Officer Thompson opened the case and discovered three bindles of cocaine inside. Officer Thompson then asked Thomas about the case, and she denied that it belonged to her. Officer Thompson did not ask Clark if she owned the cigarette case, and Clark remained handcuffed in the backseat of the patrol car while Thompson searched the vehicle.
The officers transported Thomas and Clark to the Fairbanks Police Station and secured them in separate holding cells. Officer Thompson and a drug enforcement officer interviewed Clark at the jail. Clark said that she did not know that the vehicle was stolen, and that Thomas was giving her a ride down the street. Clark admitted that she owned the cigarette ...