Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Court of Appeal Throws Out Drug Evidence From Traffic Stop
Justices Say Motorist Need Not Signal When No Vehicles Are Following
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Vehicle Code requirements that a motorist signal prior to turning do not apply when there are no following vehicles to be alerted, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Justice Kathleen O’Leary, writing for Div. Three, said Orange Superior Court Judge James E. Rogan erred in denying a motion to suppress evidence in a drug case. Because the driver’s failure to signal was not a violation, and there was no other arguable basis for the stop, the resulting search of the vehicle was unreasonable, the justice said.
The defendants, Paul Carmona Jr. and Alice Holguin, were charged with transportation of a controlled substance, and Holguin was charged with possession of a controlled substance for sale, following the stop in La Habra. Carmona was charged as a second-strike offender.
At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Officer Nick Wilson testified that he was driving southbound at about 25 miles per hour when he noticed an SUV driving towards him. When the SUV made a right-hand turn without signaling, the officer said, he made a left turn, followed the SUV, activated his lights, and stopped the car.
There were no other vehicles on the road at the time, and the officer acknowledged that neither he nor any other driver was affected by the lack of a turn signal.
Wilson said he asked the driver, Carmona, if he was on parole, which he confirmed. He added that Holguin was nervous, leading him to ask if there were drugs in the car, to which Carmona said he did not know.
A search of the car produced what turned out to be more than seven grams of methamphetamine, along with cell phones with text messages related to drug deals. A search of Holguin’s person produced drug paraphernalia.
Prosecutors argued that the motion to suppress should be denied because Carmona violated Vehicle Code Sec. 22107 and/or Sec. 22108.
Sec. 22107 prohibits turning without signaling “in the event any other traffic may be affected by the movement.” Sec. 22108 requires that a driver signal a turn “continuously during the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.”
Rogan determined that Sec. 22108 was violated and denied the motion. The defendants pled guilty, with Carmona sentenced to two years in prison and Holguin to three years probation, with conditions including 90 days in jail.
But O’Leary, in her opinion for the Court of Appeal, said there was clearly no violation of Sec. 22107, since it was undisputed that no other vehicles were, or potentially could have been, affected by the movement. And she rejected the attorney general’s argument that the 100-foot rule of Sec. 22108 applies regardless of any effect or potential effect on traffic.
“We agree with Carmona and Holguin sections 22107 and 22108 must be read together so that when a motorist is required by section 22107 to give a turn signal, that signal must be given continuously during the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before turning,” the justice wrote.
“On its face, section 22107 contemplates further explanation in a subsequent section as to what constitutes an appropriate signal,” the justice wrote. “Furthermore, were section 22108 construed as containing a stand‑alone directive that a turn signal be given continuously regardless of the presence of any other vehicle that might be affected, section 22107 would be rendered meaningless.”
The evidence, O’Leary said, must be suppressed and the defendants allowed to withdraw their guilty pleas.
The case is People v. Carmona, 11 S.O.S. 2820.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company