People v. Webb

Decision Date08 March 1967
Docket NumberCr. 10374
Citation19 A.L.R.3d 708,56 Cal.Rptr. 902,66 Cal.2d 107,424 P.2d 342
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 424 P.2d 342, 19 A.L.R.3d 708 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. George L. WEBB, Defendant and Appellant. In Bank

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., Albert W. Harris, Asst. Atty. Gen., Edward P. O'Brien, John F. Kraetzer, Gloria F. DeHart, Jay S. Linderman and John T. Murphy, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

MOSK, Associate Justice.

Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction entered upon a jury verdict finding him guilty of unlawful possession of natcotics. (Health & Saf. Code, § 11500.)

Defendant's principal contention is that he was convicted on evidence unlawfully obtained in a search of his car after it had been towed from the scene of the arrest to a police parking lot, citing Preston v. United States (1964) 376 U.S. 364, 84 S.Ct. 881, 11 L.Ed.2d 777 and People v. Burke (1964) 61 Cal.2d 575, 39 Cal.Rptr. 531, 394 P.2d 67. As will appear, we have concluded that those decisions are distinguishable on their facts and that the search here conducted was not 'unreasonable' within the meaning of the constitutional guarantees (U.S.Const., 4th and 14th Amends.; Cal.Const., art. I, § 19).

By an amended information defendant was charged in two counts with transportation of narcotics (Health & Saf. Code, § 11501) and possession of narcotics (Health & Saf. Code, § 11500), and three prior felony convictions were alleged. Defendant pleaded not guilty to both counts and admitted the priors. A jury found him not guilty on the transportation count but was unable to reach a verdict on the charge of possession. A mistrial was declared on the latter count. Upon retrial on the possession charge defendant was convicted, and he now appeals from that judgment.

Shortly after 10 p.m. on July 9, 1964, plainclothes officers Alves and Carreker of the narcotics detail of the Oakland Police Department were driving in their unmarked car in the vicinity of Seventh and Willow Streets in West Oakland, when they observed defendant seated behind the wheel of a parked automobile. The officers had been looking for him, having received information via police teletype that there was a warrant outstanding for his arrest. They pulled up beside his car, and Officer Alves, who was known to defendant as a policeman from prior contracts, called out, 'Hi, George.' Defendant immediately pushed down the lock button on his car door. Officer Alves then got out of his vehicle and stepped over to defendant's car, displayed his badge and asked him to roll down the window because he wanted to talk to him. At first defendant refused to do so, but after the officer repeated his request defendant lowered the window some three and a half inches. Officer Alves then announced, 'I have a warrant for you arrest,' and reached through the window for the purpose of unlocking the door. Defendant made a rapid downward motion with his right hand, started and accelerated the car violently, causing the wheels to spin. Officer Alves, whose arm was wedged in the window, cried out, 'Hold it! Hold it!' but defendant pulled away from the curb.

Officer Carreker, who had meanwhile alighted from the police car, fired one shot into defendant's car and pulled his partner free. Officer Carreker then fired two more shots at the car, which traveled some 30 yards in a semicircular path and crashed into a parked vehicle on the other side of the street, partially blocking the oncoming traffic lane. Defendant jumped out and started to run, but stopped when told if he did not halt the officer would shoot. After defendant was apprehended Officer Alves saw he was wounded and bleeding from the neck, and went to the radio unit to call an ambulance. Defendant was then placed in the back of the police car. While waiting a few minutes for the ambulance to come, Officer Alves opened the front door of defendant's car and saw a red balloon on the floor of the driver's side. As he retrieved the balloon, the ambulance arrived and defendant was transferred to it. Officer Alves showed the balloon to his partner, then accompanied defendant to the hospital.

Meanwhile, a large crowd of people had gathered and uniformed policemen were summoned to control them. Officer Carreker entered defendant's car through the open door and continued the search, looking into the glove compartment. He desisted, however, when his superior advised him 'he thought it would be best that the car not be searched at the scene, that it would be towed along with a police officer accompanying in the tow, and we could search it at the parking lot.' Accordingly, the car was towed some 20 blocks to a parking lot maintained by the police across the street from the police station, and a guard was posted over it.

About 15 minutes later Officer Alves returned from the hospital and went directly out to the parking lot. He reopened the door of defendant's car and found an orange balloon lying on the floor behind the driver's seat. On the convertible rail above the driver's door he found four more balloons and a small white paper bindle. Each of the balloons and the bindle contained heroin.

Defendant's principal contentions on appeal relate to the propriety of admitting these items into evidence in the light of the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. 1

It cannot be seriously contended that the red balloon found by Officer Alves on the floor of the front seat while waiting for the ambulance to arrive was the product of an illegal search and seizure. Although the officers had no search warrant, they had ample reasonable cause to arrest defendant (Pen.Code, § 836, subd. 3) and hence were authorized to search his car as an incident to that arrest. (People v. Robinson (1965) 62 Cal.2d 889, 894, 44 Cal.Rptr. 762, 402 P.2d 834; People v. Burke (1964) supra, 61 Cal.2d 575, 580, 39 Cal.Rptr. 531, 394 P.2d 67.) Reasonable cause was established by the information received by the officers via police teletype that there was a warrant outstanding for defendant's arrest; even though they were not in possession of the warrant itself 2 they were entitled to make an arrest on the basis of this information as it was received from official sources. (People v. Kraps (1965) 238 Cal.App.2d 675, 679, 48 Cal.Rptr. 89; People v. Schellin (1964) 227 Cal.App.2d 245, 251, 38 Cal.Rptr. 593; People v. Stewart (1961) 189 Cal.App.2d 176, 178, 10 Cal.Rptr. 879.) In the present case, moreover, such reasonable cause was bolstered by defendant's furtive and suspicious conduct when first approached by Officer Alves, followed by his reckless attempt to flee at the risk of the officer's life and limb. (People v. Cruz (1964) 61 Cal.2d 861, 865, 40 Cal.Rptr. 841, 395 P.2d 889; People v. Martin (1956) 46 Cal.2d 106, 108, 293 P.2d 52; People v. Vegazo (1961) 191 Cal.App.2d 666, 668--671, 13 Cal.Rptr. 22; People v. Cisneros (1958) 166 Cal.App.2d 100, 102, 332 P.2d 376; People v. Paul (1957) 147 Cal.App.2d 609, 617, 305 P.2d 996.)

Defendant urges nevertheless that the arrest was merely a 'pretext' for the search and hence that the latter was not reasonable within the meaning of the Constitution. (See People v. Haven (1963) 59 Cal.2d 713, 719--720, 31 Cal.Rptr. 47, 381 P.2d 927, and cases cited.) In support, defendant points primarily to the fact that the policemen who arrested him were acting on the authority of a burglary warrant. The argument is without merit. There is no authority holding it unlawful for a police officer assigned to a narcotics detail to execute a warrant of arrest for an offense unrelated to narcotics. On the contrary, Penal Code section 816 declares that 'A warrant of arrest must be directed generally to any peace officer in the State, and may be executed by any of those officers to whom it may be delivered.'

A more difficult question is presented by defendant's challenge to the legality of the continuation of Officer Alves' search of his car after it had been towed to the police parking lot. Defendant relies on Preston v. United States (1964) supra, 376 U.S. 364, 84 S.Ct. 881, 11 L.Ed.2d 777, and People v. Burke (1964) supra, 61 Cal.2d 575, 39 Cal.Rptr. 531, 394 P.2d 67. A meaningful resolution of the problem requires us to examine closely the facts of those cases and the scope of the rule they apply.

In Preston the police received a telephone complaint at 3 o'clock one morning that 'three suspicious men acting suspiciously' had been seated a car parked in a business district since 10 o'clock the previous evening. Police officers went to this location and found the defendant and two companions in the car. When asked why they were parked there, the men gave unsatisfactory and evasive answers; they also admitted they were unemployed and had only 25 cents between them. The officers then arrested them on a charge of vagrancy, searched their persons for weapons, and took them to police headquarters. Their car, which had not been searched at the time of arrest, was driven by an officer to the station and then towed to a garage. After the men had been booked, several officers went to the garage to search the car and found two loaded revolvers in the glove compartment. They gained access to the trunk after removing the back seat, and found caps, masks, rope, a dummy license plate, and other items. In a subsequent trial on a charge of conspiracy to rob a bank, these artcicles were admitted into evidence over timely objections.

In Burke a police officer observed the defendant and a companion early one morning acting suspiciously in an area where numerous burglaries had recently occurred. When asked why they were there, they gave evasive answers or remained silent. 'Because of the unsatisfactory explanation and the suspicious actions of the two men,' the officer...

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