Skelton v. Superior Court

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation81 Cal.Rptr. 613,1 Cal.3d 144,460 P.2d 485
Decision Date12 November 1969
Parties, 460 P.2d 485 Robert Lee SKELTON, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF ORANGE COUNTY, Respondent; The PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest. L.A. 29654.

Page 613

81 Cal.Rptr. 613
1 Cal.3d 144, 460 P.2d 485
Robert Lee SKELTON, Petitioner,
The PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest.
L.A. 29654.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
Nov. 12, 1969.

Page 614

[460 P.2d 486] [1 Cal.3d 147] Geragos & Part and Paul J. Geragos, Los Angeles, for petitioner.

No appearance for respondent.

Cecil Hicks, Dist. Atty., and Michael R. Capizzi, Deputy Dist. Atty., for real party in interest.

SULLIVAN, Justice.

Petitioner, Robert L. Skelton, was charged by information in the respondent court with three counts of receiving stolen property (Pen.Code, § 496) and with one court of possession of a dangerous drug without a prescription (Health & Saf.Code, § 11910). Pursuant to Penal Code section 1538.5, 1 petitioner moved to suppress certain evidence [1 Cal.3d 148] alleged to have been unlawfully seized and the respondent court

Page 615

[460 P.2d 487] denied this motion. He now seeks a writ of mandate commanding respondent court to annul its order and to grant his motion to suppress. (§ 1538.5, subd. (i).) We issued an alternative writ of mandate. The People, as real party in interest, have made a return thereto. (Cal.Rules of Court, rule 56(c).)

The relevant facts, for the most part, are not in dispute. On December 12, 1968, a search warrant was issued to Officer Douglas Geisler of the La Palma Police Department by a judge of the Superior Court of Orange County authorizing the search of petitioner's residence in the City of Los Alamitos. The warrant was directed to the discovery of four items of stolen property: a combination engagement-wedding ring; a decorative carving set; a set of plastic dominoes; and a set of engraved silverware.

About 11:20 p.m. on December 12, Officer Geisler, accompanied by five other officers, went to petitioner's residence and served the warrant on petitioner who answered the door. The six officers then entered the house and commenced a search for the four items of stolen property listed in the warrant. After about 20 minutes one of the officers discovered the set of dominoes on a shelf above a window in the dining room. Officer Geisler thereupon placed petitioner and his wife under arrest and directed the officers to continue their quest.

During the following two hours the police conducted what appears to have been a thorough search of the Skelton residence. Although the testimony of Officer Geisler at the preliminary hearing 2 was ambiguous, 3 [1 Cal.3d 149] the search seems to have been motivated not simply by a desire to locate the three remaining items specified in the warrant but also by the hope of discovering property listed as stolen on police burglary reports which the officers had brought with them. In any event, the following items not included in the warrant were uncovered during the course of the search and were seized: five women's rings; four women's watches; one man's watch; two sets of silverware; 4 and a

Page 616

[460 P.2d 488] bottle of capsules subsequently determined to be secobarbital.

Petitioner's motion to suppress rested upon two grounds: First, that the search warrant was invalid because the affidavits for the warrant did not set forth facts sufficient to establish probable cause for its issuance; and second, that some of the property seized was obtained by the police as the result of what was, in fact, a general 'exploratory' search of a kind condemned by this court in Aday v. Superior Court (1961) 55 Cal.2d 789, 13 Cal.Rptr. 415, 362 P.2d 47. 5 We will first consider petitioner's contention that the warrant was issued without probable cause and was therefore constitutionally deficient for, if this is so, none of the items seized during the search which it authorized may be admitted.

The basic principles governing searches made pursuant to a warrant are clear and need no extended discussion here. The starting point for any analysis must be the words of the Fourth Amendment which provides, in relevant part, that '* * * no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.' The fundamental rights of the Fourth Amendment are guaranteed against invasion by the states by the Fourteenth Amendment (Ker v. California (1963) 374 U.S. 23, 30--33, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 10 L.Ed.2d 726) and the standard for determining the existence Vel non of probable cause is the same under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Aguilar v. Texas (1964) 378 U.S. 108, 110, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723.)

As the court stated in Aguilar, 'An evaluation of the constitutionality of [1 Cal.3d 150] a search warrant should begin with the rule that 'the informed and deliberate determinations of magistrates empowered to issue warrants * * * are to be preferred over the hurried action of officers * * * who may happen to make arrests'.' Thus when a search is based on a warrant (and therefore on a magistrate's rather than a police officer's determination of probable cause) the reviewing courts 'will accept evidence of a less 'judicially competent or persuasive character than would have justified an officer in acting on his own without a warrant' * * * (Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 270; 80 S.Ct. 725, 736, 4 L.Ed.2d 697) and will sustain the judicial determination so long as 'there was substantial basis for (the magistrate) to conclude * * *" that the contraband was probably present. (Aguilar v. Texas, Supra, 378 U.S. at p. 111, 84 S.Ct. at p. 1512.) In order for a search warrant to satisfy the constitutional requirement of probable cause, the affidavits upon which it is based must contain competent evidence 'sufficient to support the finding of the magistrate.' (People v. Scoma (1969) 71 A.C. 349, 353, 78 Cal.Rptr. 491, 493, 455 P.2d 419, 421.) In determining the sufficiency of an affidavit for the issuance of a search warrant, the test of probable cause is approximately the same as that applicable to an arrest without a warrant, a commitment by a magistrate or an indictment by a grand jury (People v. Stout (1967) 66 Cal.2d 184, 193, 57 Cal.Rptr. 152, 424 P.2d 704; Williams v. Justice Court (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 87, 94, 40 Cal.Rptr. 724), namely, whether the facts contained in the affidavit are such as would lead a man of ordinary caution or prudence to believe, and conscientiously to entertain, a strong suspicion of the guilt of the accused. (People v. Govea (1965) 235 Cal.App.2d 285, 296, 45 Cal.Rptr. 253.) While it is clear that

Page 617

[460 P.2d 489] probable cause does not require as strong evidence as is needed to convict (United States v. Ventresca (1964) 380 U.S. 102, 107, 85 S.Ct. 741, 13 L.Ed.2d 684), the exact quantum of evidence which will constitute probable cause must be judged in light of the facts and circumstances of each case. The rules of appellate review recognize the impracticality of establishing a precise calculus by which the existence of probable cause is to be determined: the warrant can be upset only if the affidavit fails as a matter of law to set forth sufficient competent evidence supportive of the magistrate's finding of probable cause, since it is the function of the trier of fact, not the reviewing court, to appraise and weigh evidence when presented by affidavit as well as when presented by oral testimony. (People v. Govea, Supra, at 297, 45 Cal.Rptr. 253; Arata v. Superior Court (1957) 153 Cal.App.2d 767, 772, 315 P.2d 473 fn. overruled on other grounds; People v. Butler (1966) 64 Cal.2d 842, 845, 52 Cal.Rptr. 4, 415 P.2d 819.)

[1 Cal.3d 151] In the instant case, two affidavits were presented to the superior court judge who issued the warrant. The first, and more significant, was that of Ronald Boyd, dated December 12, 1968. It stated in substance as follows: That affiant was 17 years old and was then incarcerated in Orange County Juvenile Hall on burglary charges; that he had known the petitioner, Skelton, for approximately four years; that during 1967 he had committed two or three residential burglaries and several thefts from stores and delivered the proceeds to petitioner in return for money; that from December 1967 until September 1968 he had been incarcerated in the California Youth Authority and that after his release, until his arrest in December 1968, he had burglarized 30 to 35 residences in various Southern California communities and in almost all instances had delivered the proceeds to Skelton at the latter's residence or place of business; and that Skelton paid cash (here Boyd related specific prices paid for certain named items) for these goods and to affiant's knowledge had disposed of most of the articles within one day thereafter since he did not see them on subsequent visits to petitioner's home.

Boyd's affidavit further stated that affiant 'has observed the following stolen property' in petitioner's residence: (1) a diamond ring taken by affiant during a burglary three weeks earlier which affiant observed being worn by petitioner's wife on several occasions, the last occasion being December 8, 1968; (2) a set of silverware of specified description taken by affiant during a burglary six weeks earlier and given to petitioner as a gift, which affiant saw in petitioner's kitchen and which he observed being used by petitioner and his wife in their residence on several occasions; (3) a set of dominoes, taken by affiant during a burglary two weeks earlier which 'although your affiant has not observed these items in Mr. Skelton's residence he told Mr. Skelton to keep them for him;' and (4) a carving set in an oval case, taken by affiant during the burglary three weeks earlier in which he took the diamond ring, given on the evening of the burglary to petitioner, who said he would keep it in his garage in the rear of his premises.

The second affidavit was that of Officer Geisler. In substance it stated that he had arrested Boyd...

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