Tuesday, March 5, 2002
High Court Upholds Arrest of Cyclist for Not Having Identification
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The state Supreme Court yesterday upheld a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff’s arrest of a bicyclist for failing to produce identification when he was pulled over for pedaling in the wrong direction on a one-way street.
The 6-1 ruling came in the case of Conrad Richard McKay, who placed under custodial arrest, searched, and found to have a baggie of methamphetamine in his sock. The arrest came after McKay told the deputy his name and birth date but could not come up with written documentation.
McKay was sentenced to nearly three years for the drug charge after being stopped for a California Vehicle Code infraction punishable by a $100 fine. The Vehicle Code requires motorists to carry identification.
The high court followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision in April that validated a Texas motorist’s arrest for not being buckled up—a 5-4 ruling saying police can arrest and handcuff people for minor traffic offenses.
In yesterday’s decision, the second this year from the California justices limiting the Fourth Amendment rights of motorists or bicyclists to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, Justice Marvin Baxter rejected McKay’s argument that custodial arrests fine-only offenses violate the Fourth Amendment.
A custodial arrest authorizes an officer to conduct a full search.
The ruling upheld a 1959 law allowing officers to arrest and search Vehicle Code offenders who do not have identification.
McKay’s lawyer, Richard L. Fitzer of Los Angeles, said the decision “is probably the price we’re paying for 9-11”—a reference to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Baxter said McKay could have been arrested or searched had he committed a minor traffic infraction while he was driving a car because driving and bicycling are subject to “the same rules of the road.”
The court, however, left it to the “judgment of the arresting officer” on whether to arrest or follow a “cite-and-release procedure” whereby the violator is ticketed and released.
A threshold issue facing the justices was whether a state law barring gathering of evidence incident to an illegal arrest could form the basis of a Fourth Amendment exclusion. Baxter said it cannot.
“To assert (as defendant does) that state law can transform constitutional police conduct in to its opposite would unravel our federal system...,” Baxter wrote.
He cited Proposition 8, an initiative passed by voters in 1982, that makes state exclusionary rules co-extensive with federal rules.
In a lone dissent, Justice Janice Rogers Brown argued that the decision gives police too much power by granting officers the right to focus on minorities.
“So what makes such minor lawbreaking worthy of attention?” Brown wrote. “What if Mr. McKay rides a bicycle because he does not have a driver’s license? What if, being a dedicated libertarian, he deliberately eschews all forms of government-issued identification? What if not being photographed is a tenet of his religious faith? No matter. The result according to the majority is that Mr. McKay may be subjected to a full custodial arrest, have himself and his possessions thoroughly searched, have contraband unrelated to the observed public offense or to concerns about officer safety seized and used in the prosecution of a new crime.”
The 34-year-old McKay, who is white, has served his sentence. Police found the drugs in one of his socks. He could not be located yesterday for comment.
The decision is the second time this year California’s justices have granted law enforcement authorities broad search-and-seizure powers.
In January, the justices ruled 4-3 that officers may conduct warrantless searches on motorists who do not possess identification or proof they own the vehicle, even if they are not arrested.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company