Can Police search your car two blocks away? People v. Johnson
A car parked two blocks away from arrest is not within the automobile search incident to a recent occupant’s arrest. This is from the March 28, 2018 Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate Dist., 7th Div. decision People v. Johnson, 21 Cal. App. 5th 1026.
Let’s grab a quick recap of Constitutional rights and Police searching your vehicle, and then discuss Johnson.
To start, “[a] search incident to a lawful arrest is a well-established exception to the general rule prohibiting warrantless searches.” The reasoning: Officer safety and possible destruction of evidence. Ok, got that. So the next question is whether a search incident to arrest of a vehicle is ok. Per the US Supreme Court 2009 case Gant, this vehicle search is legal “(1) if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the vehicle during the search, or (2) if the police have reason to believe that the vehicle contains `evidence relevant to the crime of arrest.” See Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332. One more fun little note of this: this search applies to recent occupants in your car whom were arrested. See Thornton v. United States (2004) 541 U.S. 615.
Having said that, Police may also search your vehicle without a warrant per the “automobile exception” if it “’is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband’or evidence of criminal activity.”
Ok, so what happened in Johnson? Police watched Johnson hold several bags that looked like drugs, exchange money and some of the bags with a lady. Police then see Defendant drive away in his car, then park, then walk away from his car two blocks. Police arrest Defendant and search his car to find illegal drugs.
Defendant gives the “Hey man, you can’t search my car. It was two blocks away!” And the Court agrees, then disagrees. Searching the car two blocks away from the site of arrest was not incident to the arrest. But Police seeing a bag of drugs in plain view on Defendant’s passenger seat gave Police probable cause to search the car.
-DUI defense, with a focus on science and trial work
Eric teaches with the Trial Lawyers College and is a founding member of the DUI Defense Lawyers Association.
He earned his JD from Thomas Jefferson School of Law and his BA in Music Education from Northern Illinois University.
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