Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Court of Appeal: Phony Traffic Stop Voids Search, Even if It Leads to Discovery of Valid Warrant
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Evidence obtained pursuant to a fabricated traffic stop based on a false allegation must be suppressed, even if the stop leads to discovery of a valid warrant, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
“If it indeed happened, fabricating the grounds for a traffic stop and repeating this fabrication under oath at a suppression hearing ‘strikes at the very core of our system of law,’ ” Justice Earl Johnson Jr. wrote for Div. Seven.
“The subsequent discovery of lawful grounds to arrest and search the defendant does not dissipate the taint of such a flagrant violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights and society’s necessary trust in its law enforcement officials. Nor is this violation, if it occurred, one for which the suppression of evidence is too drastic a remedy.”
Justice Laurie Zelon concurred, but Presiding Justice Dennis Perluss argued in dissent that discovery of a valid warrant “so attenuates the connection between the stop itself and the evidence discovered during their properly limited search incident to arrest that any taint from the primary illegality has been purged.”
The court reversed Guillermo Rodriguez’s convictions for possession of a controlled substance for sale and transportation of controlled substance.
The case was sent back to the Los Angeles Superior Court for a determination as to whether police lied about Rodriguez’s car having a “burnt out” brake light. If they did, and if no reasonable officer could have believed that a violation was committed, the motion to suppress must be granted, the court said.
Rodriguez was stopped by two Bell Gardens detectives assigned to the gang and narcotics unit. The officers apparently did not issue a traffic citation, but ran a warrant check that showed an outstanding warrant, on which Rodriguez was arrested.
A subsequent search of the car resulted in discovery of a bag containing methamphetamine. At the hearing on Rodriguez’s motion to suppress, a witness testified without contradiction that he picked up Rodriguez’s car at the police impound three days after he was arrested and both tail lights and brake lights were working.
Judge Michael Cowell declined to rule on whether the tail lights and brake lights were working, finding that the existence of a valid warrant rendered the search lawful in any event.
But Johnson, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the defense had alleged misconduct on the part of the police that was so flagrant as to place the case in the narrow category of circumstances in which a search is invalid even if it follows a valid arrest.
Perluss, however, argued in dissent that since the officers could have arrested Rodriguez on the warrant and searched the passenger compartment of his car without making any traffic stop at all, “what possible interest is served by holding that contraband discovered as a result of that lawful search incident to a lawful arrest should be suppressed?”
Counsel on appeal were Jonathan B. Steiner and Richard L. Fitzer, appointed to represent the defendant, and Deputy Attorneys General Jaime L. Fuster and Lance E. Winters for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Rodriguez, B186661.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company