Search Ruled Nonconsensual by Body Camera Evidence

By Danielle Eden C. Silva

In Department 13, the court considered a suppression of evidence motion after previewing a 30-­minute video from an arresting officer’s body cam.

The court convened in the presence of the prosecutor, defense attorney, and defendant Marina Angelique Martinez. Ms. Martinez had been arrested on September 11, 2017, and charged with a felony of possessing ammunition. One of the officers who arrested her on that day appeared on the stand today.

Officer Daniel Gill has worked with the West Sacramento Police Department for 13.5 years and is currently a sworn peace officer.

During their direct examination, the prosecution clarified that Officer Gill turned on a body camera and approached a car with two different license plates. The 30-minute body cam video from September 11, 2017, was shown to the court.

Officer Gill activated his body cam within his vehicle before climbing out into a parking lot. He approached two individuals, a woman with a dog and a man with a bike. Officer Gill questioned whether the car belonged to either of them, and the woman said it was hers. The officer then noted that the vehicle had two different license plates, a misdemeanor. As he approached, the woman, who identified herself as the defendant Ms. Martinez, shared she had been on probation but no longer was.

The defendant explained that her rear license plate had been stolen last year. She had ordered new plates from the DMV but confusion occurred when the bank halted payment on her DMV registration. To replace her rear license plate, she used her father’s old one.

Officer Gill requested another officer and contacted dispatch for more information on the defendant and her companion. Once the other officer arrived, the registration papers were found to be in the glove box of the vehicle. Both the defendant and the man were told to remain where they were as the car was searched.

Officer Gill searched the car, procured the papers, and approached the defendant again. As he went over the papers, he asked Ms. Martinez her reason for being on probation and she stated her probation came from a conviction for possession of drugs and a stolen car. Officer Gill noted a band had been left on one of the seats and inquired if they had been shooting up heroin in the car. She denied this, saying she did have pills but they were prescription. The defendant also stated the man with her was her ex-boyfriend and they had been greeting each other. Officer Gill then said if nothing illegal was in the car, she would just have to take the license plates off and she would only have a misdemeanor.

After searching the main part of her car, he went over to the other officer to retrieve keys to open the trunk. As he searched the trunk, he located items that could not be seen through the camera, and then he returned to the defendant.

Once the 30-minute video concluded, the prosecutor asked the officer for clarification as to what had been found inside the car. Officer Gill stated he found seven live ammunition rifle rounds in her bag and 11 boxes of rifle rounds in the trunk. He also reaffirmed that he had continued to search the car in case she possessed any illegal items, which he found to be true after the initial search.

The defense’s redirect began by asking if the officer received any calls about firearms, which Officer Gill denied. Officer Gill stated he had been driving around when he spotted the car with differing license plates. He confirmed the reason for the violation was explained to him and he had backup in the officer sent by dispatch, whose name he could not recall.

The defense then asked if the defendant specifically consented to Officer Gill searching the car. The defendant had stated that nothing illegal was in the car and said so during the interview at the police station following the arrest. The defendant had also been unaware it was illegal for her to have ammunition in her vehicle.

Following the redirect by the People, Officer Gill was dismissed. No other evidence was brought to the court and arguments were presented.

The prosecution asserted the officer had, beyond a reasonable doubt, a reason to search the vehicle and did so. Given the context of the video, the officer did receive consent. In fact, the People propose, the officer had been given the keys and had been directed to where in the car to search, being directed to the glove box. Officer Gill had been encouraged to search the vehicle.

The defense, on the contrary, stated that the video pointed out only implied consent. The situation was controlled by the officer and he had established his authority early on by asking if they were on parole or probation and searching the man with the bike. The arresting officer never asked about if the car was stolen – a potential crime that would be directly correlated with the different license plates. Three times the officer searched the vehicle. Prior to the third time, the officer phrased the statement in a way where it sounded like the interaction was going to end. The defense argued this search had been a Fourth Amendment violation.

The prosecution disagreed, claiming this was expressed consent, not implied consent. Unlike Miranda rights, consent for searches are something that can be phrased in any way the officer deems fit for the situation.

The Honorable Paul K. Richardson pointed out that the transcript of the video provided a different context than the video itself did. Officer Gill and Ms. Martinez’s dynamic in the video did not show consent and any notes in the transcript that sounded affirmatory were possibly in response to different questions the officer had asked. The video proved that permission for searching the glove box was given, but not the entire car.

The motion to suppress was granted.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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        1. Highbeam

          First edit indeed done by 9…another run through and some fact checking (eg, I suspect the defendant may be on probation rather than parole)…

          I can only do one article at a time, and I volunteer as much time as I can.

          cathy a

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