People v. Meredith

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation15 Cal.Rptr.2d 285,11 Cal.App.4th 1548
Decision Date30 December 1992
Docket NumberNo. B055434,B055434
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Carlton Clifford MEREDITH, Defendant and Appellant.

Bourdette & Partners and Richard Rumery, Visalia, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for defendant and appellant.

Daniel E. Lungren, Atty. Gen., George Williamson, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Carol Wendelin Pollack, Acting Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., William T. Harter, Supervising Deputy Atty. Gen., Andrew D. Amerson, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

CROSKEY, Associate Justice.

Carlton Clifford Meredith appeals from his conviction after a negotiated plea of guilty to one count of possession of cocaine base for sale. (Health & Saf.Code, § 11351.5; Count 1.) Meredith pled guilty to one count of a two-count information Meredith was initially charged in the United States District Court with possession of cocaine base with intent to distribute (21 U.S.C., § 841, subd. (a)(2)). That charge was dismissed after the District Court ruled that the evidence against Meredith had been obtained in violation of Meredith's rights under the Fourth Amendment.

                after the trial court denied his motion under Penal Code section 1538.5 to suppress the evidence against him. 1  He was sentenced to the low term of 3 years in state prison for the offense

When Meredith was subsequently charged with state offenses in the Superior Court, he moved under Penal Code section 1538.5 to suppress the evidence against him. He argued first, that the suppression of the evidence and subsequent dismissal of the action in federal court operated to bar introduction of the evidence in state court, and second, that the evidence was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court found the evidence had been legally obtained and denied the suppression motion. Meredith then pled guilty to count 1 of the information.

It is well established that the United States Attorney is not barred from relitigating in federal court the legality of a search or seizure that has been found illegal in a state court, unless federal prosecutors actively participated in the state hearing. (Elkins v. United States (1960) 364 U.S. 206, 224 [80 S.Ct. 1437, 1447, 4 L.Ed.2d 1669]; United States v. Davis (2d Cir.1990) 906 F.2d 829, 832-835.) However, the parties have cited no published California case, and our research has revealed none, which directly addresses the issue of whether the People of the State of California are entitled to relitigate in state court the legality of a search which a federal court has previously found illegal.

We shall conclude that the public prosecutor representing the People of the State of California is not barred from relitigating in state court the legality of a search or seizure that has been found illegal in federal court, unless the People's prosecutors actively participated in the federal proceedings. Such a rule is compelled by general and well established principles of collateral estoppel, which preclude application of the doctrine unless the party against whom the doctrine is asserted, or one with whom the party is in privity, had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the earlier proceeding.

On the particular facts of this case, we shall conclude the People were not collaterally estopped from litigating the legality of the search challenged by Meredith. We shall further conclude the court reasonably found upon the basis of substantial evidence that the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment. We shall therefore affirm Meredith's conviction.


As found by the trial court on the basis of substantial evidence (People v. Leyba (1981) 29 Cal.3d 591, 596-597, 174 Cal.Rptr. 867, 629 P.2d 961; People v. Carvajal (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 487, 495, 249 Cal.Rptr. 368), Detective Loren Mauerhan of the City of Los Angeles Police Department, an experienced narcotics officer, was on duty in plain clothes at approximately 8:15 p.m. on April 11, 1990 at the Amtrak train station in Los Angeles with several other officers, when he saw Meredith enter the station carrying only one suitcase and barely on time for the 8:30 train bound for Chicago, a train frequently used by narcotics couriers. Meredith went down the length of the hallway to the boarding doors, looking back and to his side all the way and appearing to be in a hurry. Mauerhan now began to suspect Meredith was carrying drugs. He followed Meredith for approximately 200 feet, then approached Meredith agreed to talk with Mauerhan. When he stopped, Mauerhan noticed he was sweating. That circumstance increased Mauerhan's suspicion that Meredith was carrying narcotics. Mauerhan asked Meredith where he was traveling and asked if he could see his ticket. Meredith handed him the ticket and said he was traveling to St. Louis. Mauerhan examined the ticket and returned it; he observed that the ticket had been paid for in cash and that the name on the ticket was Clifford Barnes. Mauerhan asked Meredith if he had any identification. Meredith said he did not, but his name was Clifford Barnes.

him, displayed his police badge, and asked Meredith if he would mind answering a few questions.

Mauerhan now told Meredith he was a narcotics officer and asked if Meredith had any narcotics in his luggage. Meredith replied, "Sure, you can look. I don't have any drugs." Meredith set his suitcase on the ground. It had a lock, a practice which Mauerhan had found to be common among drug carriers. Mauerhan asked Meredith for the key to the lock. Meredith said he had no key, but he gave Mauerhan permission to "bust the lock."

Mauerhan twisted the zipper tab which held the lock to the suitcase and opened the suitcase. Inside he found a plastic shopping sack containing a baggie, which in turn contained what appeared to be rock cocaine.

Meredith's person was later searched in Mauerhan's presence at the police station. A key to the suitcase was found in Meredith's shoe. After being advised of his constitutional rights, Meredith told the police he had gotten the cocaine in Los Angeles, had paid $4,000 for it, and expected to be able to sell it for $9,000 to $10,000 in St. Louis.

Billy Levi and Meredith testified in Meredith's behalf at the suppression hearing in the Superior Court. Levi drove Meredith to the Amtrak station on April 11, 1990. When Levi left Meredith at the station, Meredith did not appear to be nervous or sweating or upset and did not appear to be walking particularly quickly.

Meredith testified that on April 11, 1990, he was going to St. Louis to visit his family. He arrived fifteen minutes early for the 8:30 train, believing that was ample time. He walked toward the train at a normal pace and was not perspiring. As he walked, detective Mauerhan said, "Excuse me, sir," placed a hand on his shoulder, identified himself as a police officer, and asked if Meredith would answer some questions. Contrary to testimony by Mauerhan, Meredith denied Mauerhan ever told him he was free to go. If he had been told that, Meredith testified, he would have left. Rather than ask questions, Mauerhan directed Meredith to a wall, where he told him to put his hands on the wall and spread his legs. Mauerhan then patted Meredith down, removed Meredith's train ticket from his pocket, and read it. Mauerhan asked if Meredith had any identification, and Meredith said no. Mauerhan asked if he could search Meredith's suitcase. Meredith said he could not. Mauerhan then used a penknife or other small tool to open the locked suitcase, found the cocaine, and arrested Meredith.

Meredith was initially prosecuted in the United States District Court. After a hearing, the District Court suppressed the evidence against Meredith, finding that the initial stop of Meredith was unreasonable and that the search of his luggage was conducted without consent. 2 The federal

prosecution was then dismissed upon motion of the United States Attorney, and state charges [11 Cal.App.4th 1555] were brought in the Superior Court. After a hearing under Penal Code section 1538.5, the court disbelieved Mauerhan's testimony that he told Meredith he was not under arrest and was free to go. Nevertheless, the court denied the suppression motion, believing the initial stop was reasonable and that Meredith consented to the search of his luggage. Meredith then pled guilty to one count of possession of cocaine base for sale and thereafter filed this timely appeal, challenging the denial of his suppression motion.


Meredith contends that: (1) the prosecution should have been barred by collateral estoppel from relitigating the reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment of the search of his luggage; (2) the trial court erred by providing Meredith less protection from unreasonable searches and seizures than is provided under federal law; (3) the search of Meredith's luggage was conducted without probable cause and was thus unreasonable.

1. The People of the State of California Were Not Collaterally Estopped from Litigating the Legality of the Search.

The trial court in this case made findings of fact that the officer's initial stop of Meredith was reasonable and that Meredith consented to the search of his luggage, findings that were dramatically at variance with the United States District Court's findings on the same factual issues. Meredith contends the federal court's findings on the issues of the reasonableness of the stop and of consent to the search constituted a final determination on the merits of the reasonableness of the search of his luggage. He thus contends that the People were barred by collateral estoppel from relitigating the issues. We cannot agree.

Collateral estoppel applies in criminal proceedings independent of double jeopardy principles. (People v. Gephart (1979) 93 Cal.App.3d 989, 998, 156...

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  • People v. Davis
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • June 19, 1995
    ...whom collateral estoppel is asserted was a party or in privity with a party at the prior proceeding." (People v. Meredith (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1548, 1556, 15 Cal.Rptr.2d 285; see also People v. Santamaria (1994) 8 Cal.4th 903, 910-913, 35 Cal.Rptr.2d 624, 884 P.2d 81.) None of the requirem......
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    • December 4, 2007 judgments under California law for purposes of collateral estoppel." This statement is echoed in People v. Meredith (1992) 11 Cal. App.4th 1548, 1556, 15 Cal.Rptr.2d 285 (Meredith). Both cases attribute the stated rule to People v. Gephart (1979) 93 Cal.App.3d 989, 999-1000, 156 Cal.R......
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