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Case Dismissed for Unlawful Search - Court Granted Motion to Suppress Evidence - Los Angeles Superior Court

Eisner Gorin LLP earned a great victory for the Fourth Amendment after a Judge held that officers had no legal justification to enter our client's car to search for the registration after the vehicle stop. In so holding, the court granted defendant's motion to suppress a firearm recovered inside the car, and the prosecution dismissed the case.

Officer's made a patrol stop of our client's vehicle after claiming he went through a stop sign, made unsafe lane changes, and failed to signal before changing lanes. (Violations of Vehicle Code sections 22450, 21658 and 22107). Officers approached the car and asked client for his driver's license, insurance and registration. Officers claimed that client moved nervously in the vehicle, put his hand in his pockets and did not produce the proper documentation. Officers ordered client out of his car. While outside the car, client continued to move nervously, and denied officers' requests to keep still and keep his hands out of his pockets. Officers handcuffed client. Officers again requested the registration, which client said was on his phone. Officers ask client for consent to enter the car which client refused. Officers entered the car in attempt to locate the registration, and while searching the interior, recovered a firearm in plain view from an open grocery bag.

The court held that in general, an officer has the lawful right to enter a vehicle to recover the registration and proof of ownership of the vehicle – even where the subject refuses consent, or where the subject states that the documents are not in the car. But the court noted the relevant Vehicle Code section states as follows: “The driver of a motor vehicle shall present the registration or identification card or other evidence of registration of any or all vehicles under his or her immediate control for examination upon demand of any peace officer.” Vehicle Code section 44627.

The court ruled that in this case, client did not fail to produce his vehicle registration as the officers testified; in fact, he told them it was on his cell phone. This in effect constituted “other evidence of registration” as the statute permits. The court reasoned that in today's electronic age, where we can travel between countries with a plane ticket produced on our phone (that passes muster even with TSA), a citizen that says his registration is “on my cell phone” does not fail to produce his registration. The court also noted that it was significant that officers made no attempt to ask for or recover the cell phone, before entering and searching the vehicle.

The Court granted defendant's Penal Code section 1538.5 motion, on grounds that although officers acted in good faith, they acted unlawfully by entering the car to search for the registration after client told them it was on his cell phone. The court suppressed the firearm recovered in the vehicle and granted defendant's motion to dismiss the case.

The Fourth Amendment “The right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures…” is an essential principal in criminal defense law. It provides safeguards to individuals during searches and detentions, and prevents unlawfully seized items from being used as evidence in criminal cases.

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