California Supreme Court:
Learning of Parole-Search Condition Did Not Justify Search Where Detention Was Unlawful
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday, in a unanimous opinion, held that where a police officer unlawfully detained a man who was simply sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car, a search of the vehicle was not rendered justified upon ascertaining that the man was a parolee subject to warrantless searches.
A bright-line rule was not set forth, with the court confining itself to the circumstances of the particular case.
Justice Leondra Kruger authored the opinion. Justice Goodwin H. Liu offered additional thoughts in a concurring opinion.
The court reversed a March 8, 2021 2-1 decision of the Sixth District Court of Appeal affirming the conviction, pursuant to a guilt plea, of Duvanh Anthony McWilliams on charges relating to possession of a firearm, ammunition and illicit drugs. The appeal was based on the denial of his suppression motion.
San Jose Police Officer Matthew Croucher had been dispatched to a parking lot where a security officer had spotted two men on bicycles shining flashlights into parked cars; he found nothing suspicious; he went into an adjacent parking lot; he encountered McWilliams and ordered him out of the vehicle; in doing a check on him, he learned the man was subject to a warrantless-search condition of parole and searched the vehicle. He found contraband.
Sixth District Decision
The Sixth District’s majority opinion, written by Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, says that learning of the parole search condition “constituted an intervening circumstance that sufficiently attenuated the connection between the detention and the evidence seized during the ensuing search, rendering suppression unwarranted.” In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Justice Allison M. Danner said:
“I agree that Officer Croucher had no reasonable suspicion that McWilliams had committed a crime and join the majority’s analysis of that question….However, in my view the immediate discovery of McWilliams’s parole status did not dissipate the taint of the illegal detention—to the contrary, it was a direct and predictable consequence of it.”
The state high court agreed with Danner.
“The illegality of the detention is undisputed,” Kruger wrote. “The question is whether the mid-detention discovery of a parole search condition is an intervening circumstance that justifies making an exception to the exclusionary rule for the evidence turned up in that search.”
She did not embrace McWilliams’s proposition that learning of a parole search condition can never constitute an intervening factor legitimating a search, saying:
“Ultimately…we need not and do not decide here whether or under what circumstances discovery of a parole search condition could ever sufficiently dissipate the taint from an initial unlawful detention. It suffices for us to conclude that the discovery of the parole search condition had no considerable attenuating effect under the circumstances of this case.”
Addressing the facts, Kruger declared:
“[T]he People have not carried their burden of establishing the attenuation doctrine applies here. No substantial time passed between Officer Croucher’s illegal detention of McWilliams and his seizure of the evidence in this case. Officer Croucher’s subsequent discovery of McWilliams’s parole search condition, and his discretionary decision to conduct the parole search, did little to attenuate the connection between the unlawful stop and the evidence. And Officer Croucher’s decision to conduct the stop, without any evident basis to believe McWilliams was connected to the activity Officer Croucher set out to investigate, indicates a purposefulness that further justifies the exclusion of the evidence. We conclude the evidence Officer Croucher found after his illegal detention of McWilliams is not admissible.”
Liu pointed out:
“Black individuals like McWilliams disproportionately bear the brunt of discretionary decisions by law enforcement.”
He said that “[i]t is appropriate for courts to recognize” in determining whether intervening circumstances justify a search where the detention was initially unlawful that the risk of an officer using a parole search to justify that detention “may be heightened by the operation of implicit biases, including the unconscious association between Blackness and criminality.”
McWilliams had been sentenced to seven years in prison.
The case is People v. McWilliams, 2023 S.O.S. 617.
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