People v. McGaughran, Cr. 20293

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtMOSK; BIRD; NEWMAN; TOBRINER; RICHARDSON
Citation25 Cal.3d 577,159 Cal.Rptr. 191,601 P.2d 207
Decision Date25 October 1979
Docket NumberCr. 20293
Parties, 601 P.2d 207 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Larry Sanchez McGAUGHRAN, Defendant and Appellant.

Page 191

159 Cal.Rptr. 191
25 Cal.3d 577, 601 P.2d 207
The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Larry Sanchez McGAUGHRAN, Defendant and Appellant.
Cr. 20293.
Supreme Court of California, In Bank.
Oct. 25, 1979.

[25 Cal.3d 580]

Page 192

[601 P.2d 208] Paul N. Halvonik and Quin Denvir, State Public Defenders, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, Clifton R. Jeffers and Ezra Hendon, Chief Asst. State Public Defenders, for defendant and appellant.

Evelle J. Younger and George Deukmejian, Attys. Gen., Jack R. Winkler, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Edward P. O'Brien, Asst. Atty. Gen., William D. Stein, Linda Ludlow and David Schneller, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

D. Lowell Jensen, Dist. Atty., Alameda, John J. Meehan, Asst. Dist. Atty., and Rodney J. Blonien, Sacramento, as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiff and respondent.

[25 Cal.3d 581] MOSK, Justice.

Defendant was convicted of burglary committed by breaking into a locked automobile with intent to steal. (Pen.Code, § 459.) On this appeal from the judgment, he contends primarily that the superior court should have granted his pretrial motion to suppress the evidence on the ground of illegal search and seizure. (Pen.Code, § 1538.5.) We conclude that his point is well taken and the judgment must be reversed.

The operative facts are without dispute. Early on a weekday afternoon Police Officer Thomas of the City of Larkspur, Marin County, was on patrol in a marked vehicle in the vicinity of Redwood High School. He observed a Plymouth automobile proceeding in the wrong direction on a one-

Page 193

way public street that crosses the high school parking lot. Because of the violation, the officer drove up behind the vehicle and activated his red flashing light. As he did, he saw the person in the front passenger position turn around and reach over the back of the seat towards the floor. Both [601 P.2d 209] cars then stopped at the curb, and Thomas approached the driver of the Plymouth, defendant McGaughran. Thomas explained why he had stopped the car, and asked for identification. Defendant produced his driver's license, showing his address to be in San Francisco. Thomas thereupon asked for the driver's license of the passenger, Walter Acosta; it was presented, and also showed a San Francisco address. The two men told Thomas they were lost and were looking for the Marin County Juvenile Hall, a facility that the officer knew was several miles away. This discussion took three or four minutes. Thomas then returned to his patrol car and initiated a radio check for outstanding arrest warrants in both names. Some 10 minutes later the dispatcher called back and reported an Alameda County burglary warrant for defendant and two traffic warrants for Acosta.

Upon learning of the pending charges against the two men, Thomas called for assistance and requested a confirmation of the warrants. Officer Fischer arrived in 5 minutes in response to the call, and the warrants were confirmed by radio some 20 to 25 minutes later. Defendant was then arrested on the burglary warrant, pat-searched, and seated in Fischer's patrol car. He asked Fischer to return to the Plymouth to retrieve his jacket and wallet. Fischer complied, and found the wallet lying open on the dashboard, disclosing a methadone treatment card from San Francisco. On the back seat he saw an open canvas bag containing several screwdrivers, a set of small wrenches, and a pair of pliers.

[25 Cal.3d 582] Thomas questioned Acosta about his outstanding traffic warrants. The latter replied that if he were allowed to make a telephone call he could raise the necessary bail, and defendant said in such event he would release the Plymouth to Acosta so that he could return to San Francisco. 1 A quick inspection of the car revealed no weapons, and Acosta was permitted to drive it to the Larkspur police station, preceded by Thomas and followed by Fischer in their respective vehicles. After they arrived at the station, Fischer searched under the front seat of the Plymouth and found a citizens band radio that had been stolen earlier the same day from a car parked about a mile from the scene of the arrest. Examination of that car revealed one door had been broken open, and defendant's fingerprints were on the door. The present prosecution arises from that burglary.

I

At the outset it will be helpful to narrow the scope of the problem by noting what is Not involved in this case. First, in contrast to such cases as Delaware v. Prouse (Mar. 27, 1979) 440 U.S. 648, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 and In re Tony C. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 888, 148 Cal.Rptr. 366, 582 P.2d 957, the issue here is not whether Officer Thomas lawfully stopped defendant for the purpose of investigating criminal activity. Defendant acknowledges that he was traveling in the wrong direction on a one-way street, and that it was proper for the officer to stop him for the traffic violation. (Veh.Code, § 21657.) The question, instead, is whether the period of time during which Thomas thereafter conducted the warrant check on defendant and Acosta was a lawful detention. 2

Second, just as this is not a "stop" case, so also it is not a "search" case. In distinction

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to People v. Grace (1973) 32 Cal.App.3d 447, 108 Cal.Rptr. 66; Pendergraft v. Superior Court (1971) 15 Cal.App.3d 237, 93 Cal.Rptr. 155, and People v. Lingo (1970) 3 Cal.App.3d 661, 83 Cal.Rptr. 755, during the detention herein Officer Thomas did not undertake to search either the driver's person or his car. Indeed, in conducting a warrant check the officer does not "search" at all in the constitutional sense: the object of the inquiry an outstanding arrest warrant is not a personal document that an [601 P.2d 210] individual legitimately expects will remain private, [25 Cal.3d 583] such as his bank statements (Burrows v. Superior Court (1974) 13 Cal.3d 238, 242-248, 118 Cal.Rptr. 166, 529 P.2d 590); rather, it is a court order recorded in the government's own files compiled from official reports of law enforcement agencies and the Department of Motor Vehicles, and is retrieved by use of state and local police communications systems.

Third, this is not a case in which an unlawful detention led merely to the discovery of an outstanding warrant and the defendant's arrest thereon. In that event the illegality is no bar to a prosecution on the pending charge, for a defendant is not immunized from criminal liability simply because he was arrested on a warrant that had been improperly issued or executed. (See, e. g., Frisbie v. Collins (1952) 342 U.S. 519, 522, 72 S.Ct. 509, 96 L.Ed. 541; People v. Bradford (1969) 70 Cal.2d 333, 344, 74 Cal.Rptr. 726, 450 P.2d 46.) It is only when the arrest on the warrant thus discovered results in the seizure and use of incriminating Evidence against the arrestee that he can invoke, as defendant does here, the exclusionary rule. (See, e. g., Willett v. Superior Court (1969) 2 Cal.App.3d 555, 559, 83 Cal.Rptr. 22.)

Fourth, the traffic violation justifying the stop herein was not of the limited class of offenses for which the officer is either required or authorized to take the defendant into custody and transport him before a magistrate for the filing of a complaint. (Veh.Code, §§ 40301-40303; see People v. Superior Court (Simon) (1972) 7 Cal.3d 186, 199-200, 101 Cal.Rptr. 837, 496 P.2d 1205.) In those cases the right to custody manifestly includes the right to detain for a warrant check. 3 We deal here, by contrast, with one of that much larger class of traffic violations for which the offender cannot be taken into custody and removed from the scene. In such instances, provided the offender satisfactorily identifies himself (see Simon at p. 201 of 7 Cal.3d, 101 Cal.Rptr. 837, 496 P.2d 1205), the officer must simply prepare a written notice to appear (i. e., a citation or "ticket") reciting the particulars of the violation (Veh.Code, § 40500, subd. (a)), and must release the offender when he signs a written promise to appear (Id., § 40504, subd. (a)). 4

[25 Cal.3d 584] Fifth, as the record will disclose, the warrant check in the case at bar was not conducted during the period of temporary detention that is permissible even after a traffic stop in the latter class of cases. That period, although brief, is not insignificant. To begin with, it must necessarily include the time required by the officer to write out the citation and obtain the offender's promise to appear pursuant to the above-mentioned statutes. Other code provisions imply that it will include more. Thus upon demand of a police officer every motorist must present for "examination" both his driver's license (Veh.Code, § 12951, subd. (b)) and the registration card of the vehicle

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(Id., § 4462, subd. (a)). 5 If the officer reasonably believes the vehicle is in a dangerously unsafe condition, he may in addition submit it to appropriate "inspection" and "tests." (Id., §§ 2804, 2806.) And although not specifically compelled by law, certain other steps customarily taken as matters of good police practice are no less intimately related to the citation process: for example, the officer will usually discuss the violation with the motorist and listen to any explanation the latter may wish to offer; and if the [601 P.2d 211] vehicles of either are exposed to danger, the officer may require the driver to proceed to a safer location before the investigation continues. (See generally People v. Mack (1977) 66 Cal.App.3d 839, 848, 136 Cal.Rptr. 283; People v. Grace (1973) supra, 32 Cal.App.3d 447, 452, 108 Cal.Rptr. 66; People v. Lingo (1970) supra, 3 Cal.App.3d 661, 663-664, 83 Cal.Rptr. 755.)

Each of the foregoing steps, of course, requires a certain amount of time to accomplish. Nor is much less time consumed if the officer in his discretion (see Pen.Code, § 849, subd. (b)(1)) decides not to issue a citation but instead to release the motorist with a warning against committing future...

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  • People v. Suennen, Cr. 20129
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 31, 1980
    ...supra, 50 Cal.App.3d 896, 902, 123 Cal.Rptr. 80.) Citing the recent California Supreme Court holding in People v. McGaughran (1979) 25 Cal.3d 577, 159 Cal.Rptr. 191, 601 P.2d 207, appellant also contends that he was unreasonably detained while a warrant check was We recount the evidence in ......
  • People v. Huntsman, Cr. 12730
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 9, 1984
    ...(People v. Superior Court (Kiefer) [1970] 3 Cal.3d at p. 818 [91 Cal.Rptr. 729, 478 P.2d 449]; accord, People v. McGaughran (1979) 25 Cal.3d 577, 590 [159 Cal.Rptr. 191, 601 P.2d 207].)" (People v. Loewen, supra, 35 Cal.3d at pp. 126-127, 196 Cal.Rptr. 846, 672 P.2d 436, emphasis in In this......
  • People v. Bell, No. E015215
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 15, 1996
    ...of Stewart's Detention. The leading California case concerning the permissible scope of a traffic stop is People v. McGaughran (1979) 25 Cal.3d 577, 159 Cal.Rptr. 191, 601 P.2d 207. There, a police officer stopped a car going the wrong way on a one-way street. After explaining why he had st......
  • Ingersoll v. Palmer, S.F. 25001
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • October 29, 1987
    ...in a civil action for forfeiture of a car believed to be involved in drug trafficking. Petitioners also cite People v. McGaughran (1979) 25 Cal.3d 577, 583-584, 159 Cal.Rptr. 191, 601 P.2d 207 (warrant checks during traffic stops); People v. Superior Court (Simon) (1972) 7 Cal.3d 186, 199-2......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
200 cases
  • People v. Suennen, Cr. 20129
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 31, 1980
    ...supra, 50 Cal.App.3d 896, 902, 123 Cal.Rptr. 80.) Citing the recent California Supreme Court holding in People v. McGaughran (1979) 25 Cal.3d 577, 159 Cal.Rptr. 191, 601 P.2d 207, appellant also contends that he was unreasonably detained while a warrant check was We recount the evidence in ......
  • People v. Huntsman, Cr. 12730
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 9, 1984
    ...(People v. Superior Court (Kiefer) [1970] 3 Cal.3d at p. 818 [91 Cal.Rptr. 729, 478 P.2d 449]; accord, People v. McGaughran (1979) 25 Cal.3d 577, 590 [159 Cal.Rptr. 191, 601 P.2d 207].)" (People v. Loewen, supra, 35 Cal.3d at pp. 126-127, 196 Cal.Rptr. 846, 672 P.2d 436, emphasis in In this......
  • People v. Bell, No. E015215
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 15, 1996
    ...of Stewart's Detention. The leading California case concerning the permissible scope of a traffic stop is People v. McGaughran (1979) 25 Cal.3d 577, 159 Cal.Rptr. 191, 601 P.2d 207. There, a police officer stopped a car going the wrong way on a one-way street. After explaining why he had st......
  • Ingersoll v. Palmer, S.F. 25001
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • October 29, 1987
    ...in a civil action for forfeiture of a car believed to be involved in drug trafficking. Petitioners also cite People v. McGaughran (1979) 25 Cal.3d 577, 583-584, 159 Cal.Rptr. 191, 601 P.2d 207 (warrant checks during traffic stops); People v. Superior Court (Simon) (1972) 7 Cal.3d 186, 199-2......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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