Defense Raises Concern Over Legality of Search of Accused’s Vehicle – Judge Punts Until October

By Audrey Sawyer

WOODLAND, CA — Questions were raised here in a Yolo County Superior Court pretrial hearing last week about the legality of the search of the vehicle of the accused, who is charged with felony carrying a concealed firearm in vehicle, misdemeanor possession of a firearm without a serial number and two infractions of possession of an open container with possession of marijuana by driver.

In the end, the judge decided to give both defense and prosecution more time to brief the case.

During testimony, the officer at the traffic stop said he asked the accused when was the “last time the accused had been in jail,” to which Deputy Public Defender Danielle Craig asked if that was something that was traditionally asked every traffic stop. The officer admitted that it was not.

The officer added the search was conducted based on weed in the backseat, alongside with the accused “not complying” when asked to open the door.

While DPD Craig pointed out that marijuana is currently legal in California, the officer said he was trying to comfort the accused about open containers, claiming that having alcohol and weed in his car does not necessarily mean that he will be cited for that.

Throughout the hearing, a recording was shared of the officer’s interactions with the accused. The officer said initially he did not plan on issuing an infraction.

Based on information that the accused had given for identification purposes (full name, driver’s license number, and date of birth), dispatch had told the officer, he said, not only was the accused clear from their systems, but that the accused’s license was currently valid.

DPD Craig reminded the court the officer, at this point, is aware that the accused has a valid license, no warrants, and no probation status or parole.  Despite the initial search coming clear from dispatch, the officer decided to run the information through the jail system, which once again did not bring any results.

The recording shows the accused saying no to the officer searching his vehicle, stating that his car is all he has. The officer in the recording brings up once more that weed is not considered a “big deal.”

In the present, the officer is adamant that the search was only based on the alleged violation of open container laws and that he was not suspicious of anything else, and testifies he did not believe the accused was under the influence of either alcohol or marijuana at the time and it is noted that a citation still had not been written up for an expired registration.

DPD Craig asked if it is common procedure to handcuff an individual during a search, to which the officer said the accused not being handcuffed was appropriate. However, despite his comments, the use of handcuffs was suggested to the accused, to which DPD Craig argued this would make the accused uneasy.

During the redirect, it was noted a firearm was located under the driver’s seat alongside some marijuana in a plastic bag. The accused allegedly told the officer there were open, empty containers, and more weed.

DPD Craig pointed out that while the accused did not have his license on him, he had provided his name, date of birth, and his driver’s license number, and that the officer tried to use jail search to try to find a photo of the accused, even though the accused had already told the officer that he had never been arrested before.

The closing remarks started with DPD Craig pointing out once more that there was no warrant, and that four cases have come out within the past year regarding open containers and similar concerns as noted in this case. DPD Craig admitted she had not had time to file a response to the case for supplemental briefing given the recent changes in law.

Deputy District Attorney Caryn Warren objected, arguing that this is a “tactic” that the defense always uses. DDA Warren said DPD Craig ought to have written a more thorough brief initially or replied to her own, and argued Craig did not bring any case law with her for arguments.

Regardless, Judge Sonia Cortés admitted the new cases would be helpful, as one of the concerns raised is prolonged detention which might be considered relevant to the current case.

DPD Craig asked for two weeks, adding she will raise concerns about prolonged detention, whether the officer’s testimony was probable cause to search the vehicle, and consent with the search. DDA Caryn Warren asked for four weeks from Sept. 8. The judge decided on Oct. 8.

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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