Monday, September 29, 2008
Court of Appeal Upholds Warrantless Search of Military Living Quarters
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Evidence seized in a warrantless search of a defendant’s military living quarters is admissible if the search was conducted in accordance with military law requiring probable cause and the base commander’s authorization, the First District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Div. Four affirmed the conviction and sentence of Corey Marques Jasmin, who was 22 years old when Solano Superior Court Judge Harry S. Kinnicutt sentenced him to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, plus 123 years to life, after a jury found him guilty of eight felonies.
The crimes included two murders, with a multiple-murder special circumstance, three robberies, an attempted murder, and two assaults with a firearm.
The murder victims were two homeless women. One victim’s body was found in an alley in downtown Fairfield and the other about a mile away, on the front lawn of a home. Both were shot in the chest on the same day in 2003.
The robberies were committed—one a few hours before the murders and the other a few days earlier—at an adult bookstore. The first robbery was captured on videotape, and evidence showed that Jasmin, who had been having trouble paying his bills, had a lot of money to spend after the robberies.
Fairfield police, after linking Jasmin to the crimes, sought a warrant to search Jasmin’s person and car. They also notified military investigators, who asked the base commander at Travis Air Force Base for permission to search his living quarters for clothing worn during the crimes, as well as guns and ammunition..
They obtained that permission, and found various items, including a T-shirt resembling one worn during the first robbery.
Jasmin, who denied all of the charges, admitted having owned a gun that police recovered in the area, and which may have been used in all of the charged crimes. He claimed, however, that the gun had been stolen and that he did not report the theft because he did not want to get into trouble with the Air Force for having a personal weapon on the base and not checking it into the armory as required.
In moving to suppress the items seized at the base, defense counsel did not dispute that the search was supported by probable cause, nor did they claim that the base commander acted improperly in authorizing the search. They insisted, however, that there was no justification under the Fourth Amendment for not requesting a search warrant for the defendant’s residence, regardless of the fact that it was located on a military base.
But Justice Timothy Reardon, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the defense was placing “form over substance.” Military law balances individual rights and unique military needs, and searches conducted pursuant to that law, with the required safeguards, satisfy the reasonableness requirement of the Constitution, the justice said.
“Under rule 315(f)(1) of the Military Rules of Evidence, an investigatory search of a member’s quarters requires probable cause,” Reardon explained. “…The rule provides a definition of probable cause that is substantially identical to the one used in nonmilitary situations….Searches conducted under this rule require (except in limited circumstances) an authorization to search….Authorization to search is defined as ‘an express permission, written or oral, issued by competent military authority to search a person or an area for specified property or evidence or for a specific person and to seize such property, evidence, or person.’…An impartial military base commander is competent to issue authorizations to search (and seize) for persons and property situated in places under the commander’s control.”
Reardon distinguished People v. Miller (1987) 196 Cal.App.3d 307, which ordered the suppression of evidence seized in the warrantless search of a residence in a Navy housing area in Long Beach. That search differed from the one in Jasmin’s case because it did not take place on a military base, involved local police, and was executed on a residence shared by a service member with his civilian wife, Reardon pointed out.
The case is People v. Jasmin, 08 S.O.S. 5530.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company