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Saepharn v. State

Court of Appeals of Alaska

August 7, 2015

STEVEN SAEPHARN, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee

Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Michael L. Wolverton, Judge. Trial Court No. 3 AN-08-9468 CR.

Megan Webb, Assistant Public Defender, and Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Diane L. Wendlandt, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Hanley, District Court Judge.[*]

OPINION

Page 593

MANNHEIMER, Judge

Steven Saepharn appeals his conviction for fourth-degree controlled substance misconduct (possession of methamphetamine).[1] The police found Saepharn's methamphetamine in a plastic bag in his pocket, while the police were conducting a pat-down search of Saepharn's clothing for weapons.

Saepharn argues that the officer exceeded the proper scope of the pat-down search when the officer felt and then removed the plastic bag from Saepharn's pocket. For the reasons explained in this opinion, we conclude that by the time the officer patted Saepharn's pocket and felt a bag or pouch of

Page 594

crystalline substance, the officer had probable cause to believe that the substance was methamphetamine. The officer could therefore lawfully remove the bag from Saepharn's pocket.

Underlying facts

On August 21, 2008, while Anchorage police officer Jack Carson was patrolling the Mountain View area of Anchorage, he observed a Honda Civic with a cracked windshield and a defective taillight. Carson activated his patrol vehicle's overhead lights, signaling the driver of the Honda to stop. The driver did not immediately pull over, but continued driving slowly until he turned onto another street and finally stopped.

Another police officer, Sergeant Christopher Sims, was also patrolling in the area and happened to see Carson attempting to stop the Honda. Sims saw the Honda make the turn onto the other street. As the Honda made this maneuver, Sims saw the front passenger door of the Honda open slightly, then close again -- as if someone were preparing to leave the vehicle, or as if someone were discarding something out the door. Sims told Carson about what he had seen.

Once the Honda came to a stop, Carson approached the car and spoke with the driver. Saepharn was a passenger in the front seat, and there was a ...


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