People v. Collins, Cr. 13952

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation83 Cal.Rptr. 179,1 Cal.3d 658,463 P.2d 403
Docket NumberCr. 13952
Parties, 463 P.2d 403 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. William COLLINS, Jr., Defendant and Respondent.
Decision Date23 January 1970

Page 179

83 Cal.Rptr. 179
1 Cal.3d 658, 463 P.2d 403
The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant,
William COLLINS, Jr., Defendant and Respondent.
Cr. 13952.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
Jan. 23, 1970.

Page 180

[463 P.2d 404] [1 Cal.3d 659] Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., William E. James, Asst. Atty. Gen., Evelle J. Younger, Dist. Atty., Harry Wood and Joel Paul Hoffman, Deputy Dist. Attys., for plaintiff and appellant.

Richard S. Buckley, Public Defender, Loren Mandel, James L. McCormick and Harold E. Shabo, Deputy Public Defenders, for defendant and respondent.

[1 Cal.3d 660] PETERS, Justice.

Defendant was charged with possession of marijuana. (Health & Saf.Code, § 11530.) After a hearing, the superior court granted defendant's motion to set aside the information (Pen.Code, § 995), and dismissed the case. The People appeal.

On September 16, 1968, about 7:30 p.m., Officers Rada and Carreon of the Los Angeles Police Department were patrolling in a black and white police car on Gage between Avalon and Central in south-central Los Angeles. Theirs was the only vehicle on the street. Several days earlier, the officers had been informed at 'rollcall' that a grand theft auto suspect, described only as a male Negro, 6 feet tall and weighing 160 pounds, might be found in an area centered a block from that location.

They saw defendant and a companion walking on a well lit sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. Although defendant met the general description of the auto theft suspect, Officer Rada testified that he would not have stopped the defendant but for the latter's 'furtive actions.' These actions consisted of defendant's turning towards the police car--when it emitted 'a clanging noise in the muffler'--and thrusting his hand into his left front pants pocket. Officer Carreon 'whipped' the car around and brought it to a stop. As Officer Rada approached on foot, the defendant again thrust his hand into his pocket and quickly withdrew it. The officers ordered defendant to stop, and he complied.

After approaching further cautiously because 'maybe (defendant) had a weapon,' the officers asked for identification. Defendant replied that he had none. Thereupon Officer Carreon commenced a 'patdown' search of defendant, while Officer Rada searched the inside of defendant's

Page 181

[463 P.2d 405] companion's pockets. When he ran his hand over defendant's left front pants pocket, Officer Carreon felt a 'little lump;' at that instant, defendant pushed the officer's hand away and said, 'Get your hand away from there. You can't search me.' Officer Carreon had not seen the bulge before feeling it. 'Thinking it was a weapon,' the officer put his hand into defendant's pocket and extracted what turned out to be a 'lid' of marijuana loosely pocked in a plastic bag.

Initially, we have grave doubts as to the lawfulness of defendant's detention, based as it was upon his meeting a general description, turning towards the source of an unusual noise, and making two gestures towards his pocket. (Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16, 19, fn. 16, 20--22, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889; People v. One 1960 Cadillac Coupe, 62 Cal.2d 92, 41 Cal.Rptr. 290, 396 P.2d 706; People v. Hunt, 250 Cal.App.2d 311, 58 Cal.Rptr. 385.) A description as general as 'A male [1 Cal.3d 661] Negroe (sic), six foot, 160 pounds' fails to distinguish defendant from a substantial portion of the population of south-central Los Angeles. The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, Task Force Report: The Police (1967)--cited by Terry for the proposition that misuse of field interrogations is a major source of friction between police and minority groups (392 U.S. at p. 14, fn. 11, 88 S.Ct. 1868)--strongly criticizes the use of such descriptions. (Task Force Report: The Police, Supra, at pp. 186--187.)

We find it unnecessary, however, to determine the validity of the detention. Even assuming the detention was lawful, the search of defendant exceeded lawful bounds.

Terry v. Ohio, Supra, reaffirmed the settled principles that 'a search which is reasonable at its inception may violate the Fourth Amendment by virtue of its intolerable intensity and scope' and that the 'scope of the search must be 'strictly tied to and justified by' the circumstances which rendered its initiation permissible.' (392 U.S. at pp. 17--19, 88 S.Ct. at p. 1878.) With reference to self-protective weapons searches justified by circumstances short of probable cause for arrest, the court noted: 'The sole justification of the search * * * is the protection of the police officer and others nearby, and it must therefore be confined in scope to an intrusion reasonably designed to discover guns, knives, clubs, or other hidden instruments for the assault of the police officer.' Id., at p. 29, 88 S.Ct. at p. 1884.) And in upholding the search before it, the court was careful to point out that the officer 'patted down the outer clothing of petitioner and his two companions. He did not place his hands in their pockets or under the outer surface of their garments until he had felt weapons, and then he merely reached for and removed the guns. He never did invade (one companion's) person beyond the outer surfaces of his clothes, since he discovered nothing in his pat-down which might have been a weapon. Officer McFadden confined his search strictly to what was minimally necessary to learn whether the men were armed and to disarm them once he discovered the weapons. He did not conduct a general exploratory search for whatever evidence of criminal activity he might find.' (Id., at pp. 29--30, 88 S.Ct. at p. 1884.)

Sibron v. New York (1968) 392 U.S. 40, 88 S.Ct. 1889, 20 L.Ed.2d 917, reversed a possession of heroin...

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