Reversal of Conviction Draws Dissent From Incensed Jurist
Tangeman, Perren Find No Justification for Kicking in Padlocked Bedroom Door During Protective Sweep; Yegan Insists Officers Had Right to Protect Themselves, Notes Possibility of Shooting Through Door
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Div. Six of the Court of Appeal for this district has reversed the conviction of a man for offenses involving the possession of firearms and drugs based on the trial court’s denial of a motion to suppress as evidence, items found in his bedroom during a protective sweep, drawing an angry dissent from a justice who accused his colleagues of usurping the role of the trial judge and displaying “appellate bravado.”
Justice Martin J. Tangeman wrote the majority opinion, in which Justice Steven Z. Perren joined. Acting Presiding Justice Kenneth Yegan was the dissenter.
The unpublished opinions were filed Wednesday.
Reversal was based on Sheriff’s Sergeant Jarrett Morris kicking in the door, padlocked on the outside, to the bedroom of the defendant, Samuel Sedillo, an ex-felon. In the bedroom, he spotted a firearm, prompting officers to secure a search warrant and, in executing it, uncovering other contraband.
Morris was on the premises—owned by Sedillo’s brother—along with five other sheriff’s deputies and five probation officers. They were conducting a search pursuant to a consent-to-search term of the postrelease community supervision (“PRCS”) of the brother, who had been a drug dealer.
“The theoretical possibility that family members locked Sedillo inside the room was not supported by ‘specific and articulable facts.’…The reasonable inference from the locked padlock on the outside of Sedillo’s bedroom door was that he left the room and locked the door behind him.”
He went on to say:
“[T]he facts do not warrant extending the protective sweep doctrine to a room locked from the outside with a padlock. Even if Morris suspected Sedillo was inside the room, the evidence does not support a reasonable suspicion he was dangerous.”
Sedillo, who pled no contest after his suppression motion was denied, may withdraw the plea, the opinion declares.
Yegan said in his dissent:
“The majority seem very brave in the ivory tower of the court of appeal. We are far away from the dangerous streets of California. In my opinion, except in extreme cases, the last thing that appellate court justices should do is ‘second guess’ police officers who believe that a ‘protective sweep’ of a house is necessary for their safety and the safety of the residents. They are trying to not only enforce the criminal law, but are trying to go home at the end of the shift. We need police officers, ‘live ones,’ to see that the laws are followed.”
“Here, the majority fault the police for conducting a ‘protective sweep’ of a residence occupied by a person on PRCS with search terms and whose brother, appellant, is a known violent convicted felon who is not allowed to have firearms. The majority's approach to the balancing of competing rights should not be viewed with ‘appellate bravado.’ The net result of the majority opinion is a one-day license for a felon to possess a firearm.”
‘Hide and Seek’
The jurist added:
“The majority opinion places a premium on the children’s game of ‘Hide and Seek.’ Only, this is not a children’s game and the lives of police officers are at stake. There should be no benefit for a convicted felon to hide either himself and/or his shotgun and/or his drugs in a padlocked room as a shield to prevent peace officers from doing the job they are sworn to do.”
Yegan accused Tangeman and Perren of having “retried the case on appeal” and having “impermissibly substituted their judgement on the facts for that of the trier of fact,” commenting:
“They draw inferences away from the order here under review on almost every item of evidence. They are not allowed to do so.”
Acted on Tip
Sedillo, Yegan pointed out, “is a “five-time loser,” explaining that he “has been sentenced to state prison on five separate occasions—and that “[h]is name must be a household word at the police station.” He noted that the deputies and probation officers came to the house based on a tip that drugs could be found there, and they wanted to talk with Sedillo and his brother.
“The police are supposed to investigate crime,” Yegan remarked.
Initially, he said, the brother told officers that Sedillo was in the house, but later said he wasn’t.
Family members did not have a key to the padlock and, the dissenter related, it was the brother who suggested kicking in the door. They did so, he said, to make sure no one was hiding in the room with a firearm; spotted a firearm there, secured a warrant and, pursuant to that warrant, seized the firearm as well as drugs.
“This is what they are supposed to do,” Yegan said, adding:
“Now I ask the objective reader, given what the police knew, would a reasonable and prudent police officer ‘take a chance’ and not perform a ‘protective sweep’ to make sure that appellant was not lurking behind the door? This is not far-fetched and history has shown that criminals do shoot through closed doors. But the majority want the police to take that chance. And, had the police not gone into the room and had appellant or someone else shot through the door, the police would be faulted for not going into the room.”
Yegan commented in a footnote:
“Appellant’s brother was on PRCS with ‘search terms.’ Is there a better place to hide his own drugs than in a padlocked room? Are the police required to believe brother that this was solely the domain of appellant? And, if brother was truthful when he told police that appellant was home, and the police could not find him, isn't is reasonable to rationally suspect that appellant was hiding in the locked room?
“There is no question but that an appellate court reviews questions of law de novo and if the majority would just say that as a matter of law, the police cannot forcibly enter a padlocked room not occupied by a PRCS defendant, then this appeal would present a pure question of law. But, my experience tells me that there is reweighing going on here.”
“[A]lthough it should not be necessary to write this (but for the dissent’s hyperbolic comments), we recognize that police officers have a difficult and important job. They are often called upon to risk their lives in service to the public. But it is not our charge to unquestionably defer to actions which raise constitutional implications. Rather, it is the duty of the courts to safeguard citizens against unlawful intrusions on their constitutional rights.”
The case is People v. Sedillo, B297757.
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