Monday, December 1, 2008
C.A. Rejects Claim That Apparent Illness Justified Detention
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The fact that a man entering a vehicle appeared to be ill or under the influence of drugs did not justify police detention of the car’s driver, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Five Wednesday threw out Luis L. Madrid’s conviction for possession of heroin and three-year prison sentence. The panel said the evidence against him was tainted because the “community caretaking exception” to the warrant requirement did not justify his detention and subsequent search.
Madrid was parked in his red Toyota in the parking lot of a Redwood City shopping center when a man, later identified as Jeffrey Kendrick, entered on the passenger side. Madrid started the vehicle and began to move before a police officer, identified in the opinion only as Officer Perez, blocked him with his patrol car.
The officer subsequently testified that he blocked the car because Kendrick, whom he had been observing, appeared to be sick or under the influence of alcohol or drugs and he “didn’t want [the driver] to leave knowing that there could be something wrong with the passenger.”
After stopping the vehicle, the officer said, he went to check on the passenger, who appeared to be going through opium withdrawal. Kendrick, the officer testified, removed several hypodermic needles, as well as a fruit drink cap containing cotton that apparently contained heroin residue, from his clothes.
By then a second officer had arrived on the scene, and Madrid handed the officer a pharmacy bag containing packages of Sudafed and Allerfrin and a balloon, which the officer suspected contained tar heroin. Kendrick said Madrid had offered him heroin in exchange for purchasing the over-the-counter drugs, which Madrid could not buy for himself because he lacked identification.
Madrid was arrested and charged with possession of precursors with intent to manufacture methamphetamine, possession of heroin for sale, and transportation of heroin. His motion to suppress was denied by San Mateo Superior Court Judge Craig L. Parsons, who said it was appropriate for the officer “to do a welfare check on Kendrick” and that Madrid could not complain because he had gotten “caught up in the Kendrick investigation.”
The parties subsequently agreed that the prosecution would proceed only on the possession-for-sale charge and that the defendant would waive trial by jury and agree to trial on the basis of the preliminary hearing transcript. The judge found him guilty and sentenced him to three years in prison.
But Justice Mark B. Simons, writing for the Court of Appeal, rejected the prosecution argument that the detention and seizure did not require a warrant because the officer was performing a community caretaking function, not investigating a crime, when the events occurred.
The justice distinguished People v. Ray (1999) 21 Cal.4th 464, which said officers lawfully entered a house without a warrant where it appeared the house may have been burglarized and no one responded when the officers knocked.
“[A]ssuming that the community caretaking exception may justify the stop of a moving vehicle, we conclude that given the facts known to Perez a reasonable officer would not have perceived a need to do so in this case,” Simons wrote.
The justice noted that the stop was based on the officer’s observations of the passenger, not the driver; that Kendrick did not appear to be in severe distress and was able to walk to, and enter, the vehicle without assistance; and that he did not objectively present a danger to himself or to others.
It would have been “unreasonably speculative,” the justice said, for the officer to assume that Kendrick was suffering from a drug overdose merely because he was walking unsteadily and sweating.
The case is People v. Madrid, A118033.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company