Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Suppression of California CHP Evidence Unlawfully Obtained

California Criminal Defense / DUI Attorney update - new case in favor of Driver


On January 25, 2004, Police Officer Humberto Gonzalez of the California Highway Patrol responded to the scene of a traffic accident involving Layton's vehicle. Officer Gonzalez went to Layton's residence and knocked on the front door, but, receiving no response, walked to the back of the house and knocked on the back door; no one answered. Gonzalez walked to a detached garage and noticed an open door on the side of the garage; he stepped into the garage, leaned in and observed a fluorescent light fixture and marijuana plants. Almost immediately, Layton exited the back of the house, and he was arrested. Gonzalez's report of his observations was included in an affidavit written by Officer Sotelo to support probable cause to obtain a search warrant. Pursuant to the warrant, police seized several marijuana plants, growing materials and various drug paraphernalia from Layton's garage. The People filed a felony complaint.
On January 10, 2006, Layton filed a motion to suppress evidence pursuant to Penal Code section 1538.5. At the hearing on the motion, the trial court treated the motion as one to traverse the warrant. Based on Officer Gonzalez's own testimony, the court found he impermissibly entered the threshold of the garage. Therefore, the trial court found Sotelo's "affidavit was misleading" because it "allowed the magistrate to reasonably infer from its face that the alleged contraband was in plain sight. And after review of all the evidence in this motion, including the pleadings on the motion and the testimony, particularly Officer Gonzalez's testimony, I feel that the defendant . . . through a preponderance of the evidence, has shown that there was an illegal entry of this area, of the defendant's property . . . without a warrant." Nonetheless, the court denied the motion to suppress because Layton did not make a sufficient showing that Sotelo himself "knowingly, recklessly made false statements or knowingly and recklessly omitted material information" from the affidavit.
On March 3, 2006, Layton waived his right to a jury trial and agreed the trial court could decide the case based on the arrest report prepared by the police. The court found him guilty of cultivating marijuana (Health & Saf. Code, § 11358; count 1) and driving with a suspended license (Veh. Code, § 14601.5, subd. (a); count 3), but not guilty of leaving the scene of an accident (Veh. Code, § 20002, subd. (b); count 2.) He was sentenced to 3 years of probation with 120 days in county jail.
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution secures the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." (U.S. Const., 4th Amend.) A warrantless search is unreasonable per se, and any evidence obtained from such a search shall be suppressed unless it falls within a narrow exception to the warrant requirement. (People v. Woods (1999) 21 Cal.4th 668, 674; Pen. Code, § 1538.5.) Illegally obtained evidence may not establish probable cause in a search warrant affidavit. (People v. Machupa (1994) 7 Cal.4th 614, 624-628, 632.)
Here, illegally obtained evidence provided the only foundation to establish probable cause in the search warrant, but the trial court did not apply the correct burden of proof to the motion to suppress. Instead, it applied the standard for a traversal of a warrant outlined in Franks v. Delaware (1978) 438 U.S. 154, 171-172. "The error was prejudicial because the allocation of the burden of proof with respect to the two issues is not only different but diametrically opposite. In a motion to suppress the fruits of a warrantless search, the burden is on the prosecution to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the detention and search were justified. [Citations.] In a Franks motion, the search warrant is presumptively valid and the burden falls on the defendant to show that it contained deliberately or recklessly false statements. [Citation.] Since the court [ultimately] adjudicated the motion under the more stringent Franks standard, the error cannot be deemed harmless." (People v. Torres (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1324, 1334.) Based on the trial court's findings, it would have granted the motion to suppress if it applied the proper standard. Therefore, the count 1 conviction must be reversed.
The conviction of marijuana cultivation (Health & Saf. code, § 11358; count 1) is reversed and the matter remanded for the trial court to grant the motion to suppress; in all other respects the judgment is affirmed.

Remember: If the police go into your garage, call a California Defense / DUI Attorney for help. Your home's curtilage is entitled to protection.