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U.S. Constitution
See other U.S. Constitution Articles

Title: California Supreme Court Closes Warrantless Vehicle Search Loophole
Source: Tech Dirt
URL Source: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/2 ... -vehicle-search-loophole.shtml
Published: Dec 6, 2019
Author: Tim Cushing
Post Date: 2019-12-08 07:39:57 by Deckard
Keywords: None
Views: 100
Comments: 3

from the which-leaves-cops-with-only-another-half-dozen-they-can-use dept

The California Supreme Court has overturned 17 years of questionable case law, restoring a bit of the Fourth for drivers in the state. (via Courthouse News)

For nearly two decades, state law enforcement officers were able to search a vehicle without a warrant if the driver could not provide identification. While traveling on public roads in your car lowers your expectation of privacy, vehicle searches still require reasonable suspicion of criminal activity at the very least. Officers have a few other options to bypass warrant requirements, including inventory searches if the vehicle is being impounded and the ever-popular "probable cause of four legs" K-9 units to bypass warrant requirements.

California judicial precedent gave officers another way around warrant requirements by allowing searches of vehicles if the driver didn't have their ID on them. That's no longer the case in California, thanks to this recent ruling [PDF].

In this case, a vehicle search following demands for identification resulted in officers discovering methamphetamine in the driver's purse. That evidence -- along with this terrible precedent -- is no longer usable by law enforcement.

The trial court said the search was unconstitutional because none of the acceptable justifications for vehicle searches incident to arrest were in use here.

Gant held that a vehicle search incident to arrest is justified only if it is reasonable to believe the suspect can gain access to weapons inside the vehicle or that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found inside the vehicle. (Id. at p. 335.) Here, Lopez was handcuffed at the rear of her car when the search took place and could not reach any weapons inside the car. Nor was there any likelihood a search of the car would produce evidence of Lopez’s driving without a license in her possession.

The appeals court reversed the decision, citing the traffic-stop-identification-search-warrant exception created by the state Supreme Court in its 2002 decision (in re Arturo D.), which predated the US Supreme Court's Gant decision cited by the trial court by seven years.

The state court says the US Supreme Court's Gant decision is controlling here. It changed the contours of traffic stops and searches seven years after its own decision in Arturo. It defers to the top court in the land here.

It is important to remember that the question before us is a question of federal constitutional law, not one of state law. In matters of federal law, the United States Supreme Court has the final word; we operate as an intermediate court and not as a court of last resort.

Leaving the Arturo precedent untouched would force California to remain the odd state out in the Union.

To reaffirm the exception now would leave California out of step not only with United States Supreme Court precedent, but also with every other jurisdiction in the nation.

This doesn't mean cops will never be able to engage in warrantless searches when questions of identification remain unanswered. Officers can still ask for consent to search. Officers can also ask for personal info and attempt to verify that info using their access to drivers' databases. And, if officers have good reason to believe the person is lying, they can use the law forbidding providing false information as justification to search the car for evidence of that crime -- i.e., something identifying the driver as someone other than who they say they are.

New precedent is created here -- one that affirms the ruling handed down in 2009 by the US Supreme Court:

[W]e now hold the Fourth Amendment does not contain an exception to the warrant requirement for searches to locate a driver’s identification following a traffic stop. To the extent it created such an exception, In re Arturo D., supra, 27 Cal.4th 60, is overruled and should no longer be followed.

California rejoins the Fourth Amendment, already in progress. California cops will just have to use other workarounds to dodge the few Constitutional rights they're willing to recognize from now on.

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Begin Trace Mode for Comment # 1.

#1. To: Deckard (#0)

And, if officers have good reason to believe the person is lying, they can use the law forbidding providing false information as justification to search the car for evidence of that crime --

How old are you?
25
What year were you born?
Uh, 1998.

Good reason?

misterwhite  posted on  2019-12-08   10:41:58 ET  Reply   Untrace   Trace   Private Reply  


Replies to Comment # 1.

#2. To: misterwhite, Deckard (#1)

If the driver has no license, the police can impound the car and do an inventory search at the lot. You never know, they might find something.

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/if-the-police-impound-car-can-search.html

Police officers can impound your car for a variety of reasons. If you are arrested for a traffic violation, like a DUI, and no one else is present and able to drive your car, then they will typically impound it. Illegally parking or abandoning your vehicle also risks impoundment. And once officers have legally impounded your vehicle they are entitled to search it.

Inventory Searches

Police officers are allowed to search an impounded vehicle to conduct an “inventory search.” An inventory search doesn’t require a warrant or probable cause, because it isn’t supposed to be a search for evidence of a crime. Courts have upheld inventory searches on the theory that the police should be able to search the car to protect the owner from theft of any items in it, and to protect themselves from any claims of theft. (Officers can prove what was and was not in the vehicle when they took control of it by creating an inventory.) Another reason courts have allowed inventory searches is police protection: Officers should be free to search for anything in the car that could endanger them, such as weapons or explosives.

Scope of Inventory Searches

How thoroughly can the police search an impounded car? It depends on the jurisdiction. In some states police officers can search every nook and cranny of the car, while in others a brief sweep for items is all that’s permitted. In almost all states officers can take inventory of any object in plain view—that is, any object readily apparent to the naked eye. Fighting an Inventory Search

If the police impound your car and find evidence of a crime in it, you may want to contest the search; if you win, the evidence won’t be admissible in court. But, winning this argument can be tough. You will have to prove that the officers acted unreasonably or in bad faith, such as by purposely breaking the law to impound or search your vehicle. Honest mistakes by officers aren’t enough to win an illegal inventory search argument.

The following are situations in which courts have found inventory searches illegal:

  • The car wasn’t legally impounded in the first place.
  • Impoundment was unnecessary because the vehicle could have remained where it was or someone else was available to take custody of it.
  • The scope of the search exceeded the justification of preventing theft—a brief search of items and locking the car would have been sufficient.
  • It was clear that the only reason for impounding the car and conducting an inventory search was to perform an illegal warrantless search for evidence.

nolu chan  posted on  2019-12-08 11:15:37 ET  Reply   Untrace   Trace   Private Reply  


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