People v. Leyba

Citation174 Cal.Rptr. 867,629 P.2d 961,29 Cal.3d 591
Decision Date25 June 1981
Docket NumberCr. 21650
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties, 629 P.2d 961 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Michael Patrick LEYBA, Defendant and Respondent.
[629 P.2d 962] John K. Van de Kamp, Dist. Atty., Donald J. Kaplan and Richard W. Gerry, Deputy Dist. Attys., for plaintiff and appellant

Wilbur F. Littlefield, Public Defender, Dennis A. Fischer, Larry S. Beyersdorf and John Hamilton Scott, Deputy Public Defenders, for defendant and respondent.


We granted a hearing in this case to review the propriety of an investigative detention of defendant by police officers. After an independent study of the issues, we have concluded that the thoughtful opinion of Justice Newman (J. M.), assigned to sit with the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, in this case, correctly treats the issues and that we should adopt it as our own. That opinion, with appropriate deletions and additions, ** is as follows:

The People appeal (Pen.Code, § 1238, subd. (a)(7)) from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County dismissing an information (Pen.Code, § 1385) following

the granting of defendant's motion for suppression of evidence under Penal Code section 1538.5. Defendant Michael Patrick Leyba was charged in the information with possession of phencyclidine, in violation of [629 P.2d 963] Health and Safety Code section 11377, subd. (a).


On June 22, 1979, at 11:30 p. m., Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriffs Lee and Flagett were investigating a "grand theft-person" report at the intersection of Meyer and Carmenita Streets. Their patrol car was parked on Meyer, west of Mina. While Deputy Sheriff Lee was sitting in the patrol car, he saw a black Monte Carlo automobile turn northbound onto Mina from Meyer Street. A school is located on the northeast corner of Mina and Meyer Streets. Deputy Sheriff Lee saw the headlights on the Monte Carlo blink on and off several times. After the lights in the Monte Carlo blinked, Deputy Sheriff Lee observed a light colored vehicle in the school parking lot blink its lights on and off several times. He was approximately 75 yards away from the two cars as they blinked their headlights. As the Monte Carlo continued northbound on Mina, the light colored vehicle drove out of the school parking lot and followed the Monte Carlo in a northbound direction.

At the time he made these observations, Deputy Sheriff Lee was sitting in the patrol car with the grand theft-person suspect. His partner, Deputy Sheriff Flagett was standing next to the car, interviewing the victim of and witnesses to that offense. Deputy Sheriff Lee shouted to his partner that something requiring their attention was happening and that they should proceed to investigate.

Deputy Sheriff Lee was familiar with the school and the surrounding area. The school was closed and he was not aware of any classes which were in session at that hour. Deputy Sheriff Lee was aware of Mexican gang activity and that a number of school and other burglaries had occurred in the area, although he was not sure if that particular school had been burglarized.

Deputy Sheriff Lee believed that the blinking lights indicated the occupants of the two cars were signalling one another, perhaps to warn of police presence. He concluded that some kind of illegal activity was taking place, the nature of which he did not know, although "the strong possibility existed that a school burglary had taken place."

Deputy Sheriff Flagett joined Lee in the patrol car and they drove in pursuit of the two cars, first proceeding east on Meyer to Mina and then northbound on Mina. Lee lost sight of the light colored car, but saw the Monte Carlo make a U-turn and park in a southbound direction in front of a residence at the intersection of Mina and Mitoney Streets. Deputy Sheriff Lee stopped the patrol car at an angle facing the Monte Carlo and blocking it from moving. Lee could not recall if he turned on his car's red or amber lights, but he did shine the spotlight on the Monte Carlo. Lee saw three occupants in the Monte Carlo who proceeded to get out of the car, the defendant on the passenger side. He called to them to stop; two of them did so. Defendant Leyba continued to walk away from the deputies across the lawn of a residence. Deputy Sheriff Flagett walked toward defendant and ordered him to stop. Defendant Leyba looked in Flagett's direction and then reached into his left pants pocket, withdrew approximately 10 to 12 tinfoil bindles and threw them to the ground. Based on his training and experience, Lee believed the bindles contained phencyclidine.

Deputy Sheriff Flagett struggled with defendant; Lee ran to aid his partner and smelled the odor of phencyclidine about defendant's breath and person. Because of defendant's uncommon strength, his incoherent speech, and his bloodshot and watery eyes, Deputy Lee concluded he was under the influence of phencyclidine and the deputies arrested him for this offense. In a search of defendant following his arrest, Deputy Lee found eight bindles and two cigarettes containing phencyclidine. The bindles defendant threw to the ground were

quickly picked up by people attending a social gathering at a residence adjacent to the location of defendant's arrest; none were found by the deputies.


( ) (A preliminary question has been raised as to the proper standard of review. Defendant contends the issue on appeal is simply whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the trial court's ruling that the investigative stop was unlawful; if there is such evidence, the ruling is assertedly binding on this court. As will appear, the matter is not so simple.

In People v. Lawler (1973) 9 Cal.3d 156, 160, 107 Cal.Rptr. 13, 507 P.2d 621, we discussed the two-step process by which a superior court rules on a motion to suppress evidence under section 1538.5, and the different standard by which an appellate court reviews each of those steps. In the first step the trial court must "find the facts" relating to the challenged search or seizure: e. g., it must decide what the officer actually perceived, or knew, or believed, and what action he took in response. These are traditional questions of fact, and the statute vests the superior court with the power to decide them. (Pen.Code, § 1538.5, subd. (i).) Accordingly, we reaffirmed in Lawler (9 Cal.3d at p. 160, 107 Cal.Rptr. 13, 507 P.2d 621) that for the purpose of finding those facts "the power to judge the credibility of the witnesses, resolve any conflicts in the testimony, weigh the evidence and draw factual inferences, is vested in the trial court. On appeal all presumptions favor the exercise of that power, and the trial court's findings on such matters, whether express or implied, must be upheld if they are supported by substantial evidence."

No less important, however, is the second step of the process. As we observed in Lawler, "The trial court also has the duty to decide whether, on the facts found, the search was unreasonable within the meaning of the Constitution." (Ibid.) Because "that issue is a question of law," the appellate court is not bound by the substantial evidence standard in reviewing the trial court's decision thereon. Rather, we explained, in such review it is "the ultimate responsibility of the appellate court to measure the facts, as found by the trier, against the constitutional standard of reasonableness." (Ibid.) On that issue, in short, the appellate court exercises its independent judgment. 1

This general rule governs the particular instance of evidence obtained as a result of an investigative stop. It is now settled that "in order to justify an investigative stop or detention the circumstances known or apparent to the officer must include specific and articulable facts causing him to suspect that (1) some activity relating to crime has taken place or is occurring or about to occur, and (2) the person he intends to stop or detain is involved in that activity. Not only must he subjectively entertain such a suspicion, but it must be objectively reasonable for him to do so; the facts must be such as would cause any reasonable police officer in a like position, drawing when appropriate on his training and experience (citation), to suspect the same criminal activity and the same involvement by the person in question." (Fn. omitted.) (In re Tony C. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 888, 893, 148 Cal.Rptr. 366, 582 P.2d 957; accord, People v. Teresinski (1980) 26 Cal.3d 457, 461, 162 Cal.Rptr. 44, 605 P.2d 874; People v. McGaughran (1979) 25 Cal.3d 577, 588, 159 Cal.Rptr. 191, 601 P.2d 207; People v. Bower (1979) 24 Cal.3d 638, 644, 156 Cal.Rptr. 856, 597 P.2d 115.)

Applying the Lawler rule to the foregoing analysis, we observe that the first issue to be decided, i. e., whether the officer subjectively entertained a suspicion that there was criminal activity afoot and the person he intended to stop was involved in it, is a question of fact: the officer either did or did not have that suspicion at the

                time he acted.  Under [29 Cal.3d 598] Lawler, therefore, review of a trial court's finding on that issue is limited by the substantial evidence [629 P.2d 965] test. 2  But the next step in the inquiry, i. e., whether it was objectively reasonable for the officer to entertain that suspicion, is a question of law: it implicates the constitutional standard of reasonableness a standard, as Lawler recognizes, that the appellate courts have the "ultimate responsibility" to administer.  It follows that the substantial evidence test does not limit review of this issue, and the appellate court must make an independent determination whether the officer's suspicion was constitutionally reasonable in the circumstances of the case. 3

( ) Having stated the applicable legal standard, we shall apply it to the facts of this case. It was 11:30 p. m.; as...

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