Trowbridge v. Superior Court of and for County of Los Angeles

Decision Date03 July 1956
Citation299 P.2d 436
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesBeverly Joy TROWBRIDGE, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of the State of California, in and for the COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, Respondent. Civ. 21788.

Opinion vacated 300 P.2d 222.

Sydney M. Williams, Los Angeles, and Morton R. Goodman, Beverly Hills, for petitioner.

S. Ernest Roll, Dist. Atty., Jere J. Sullivan, and Lewis Watnick, Deputy Dist. Attys., Los Angeles, for respondent.

NOURSE, Justice pro tem.

Petitioner's motion made pursuant to the provisions of section 995 of the Penal Code to set aside an information charging her with violation of section 11500 of the Health and Safety Code having been denied by the respondent court, she seeks a writ of prohibition to arrest further proceedings in the respondent court upon that information.

It is petitioner's contention that the marijuana which was seized in the search of her home and which was received in evidence by the committing magistrate was illegally obtained and therefore inadmissible against her under the rule laid down in People v. Cahan, 44 Cal.2d 434, 282 P.2d 905.

The facts as shown by the evidence produced by the People are: Petitioner resides in an apartment house. On the night of February 17, 1956, she was arrested on the porch of that apartment house, when she was about to enter her apartment. The arresting officer stated to her that she was charged with possession of narcotics. At this time petitioner denied any knowledge of narcotics, and then entered her apartment. The arresting officers, according to their testimony, requested permission to enter, which petitioner gave. After entering, the following conversation occurred between one of the arresting officers and petitioner. The arresting officer asked, 'Do you have any marijuana in the house?' Petitioner: 'I don't know anything about any marijuana.' The officer: 'Well, we are going to look around anyway.' Petitioner: 'Go ahead. You won't find anything.' After this conversation the arresting officers ransacked the apartment. In certain articles of clothing they found the debris of marijuana; in a trash basket in the kitchen they found further debris of this plant; in a spice bottle they found marijuana; and in the garage which was beneath petitioner's apartment they found a bag containing marijuana.

The officers did not have a warrant for the arrest of petitioner, nor a search warrant.

Apparently, although this is not entirely clear from the testimony given, the porch where the arrest occurred was one used in common by petitioner and others who rented apartments.

The facts here present the following clear-cut questions: (1) Is information given by a known informant sufficient in itself to constitute probable cause for a police officer to believe that a person has committed a felony, and thus justify the arrest of that person? (2) May the home of a person arrested outside the home but adjacent to it be searched when at the time of the search the officers do not have knowledge of any fact or circumstance that would indicate that the person arrested has committed a felony, other than the information given by a known informer?

Neither of these questions has been passed upon by out Supreme Court either before or since its decision in People v. Cahan, supra, in a case where it was necessary to decide the question.

In People v. Boyles, 45 Cal.2d 652, 656, 290 P.2d 535, 537, the Supreme Court said: 'It is settled, however, that reasonable cause to justify an arrest may consist of information obtained from others and is not limited to evidence that would be admissible at the trial on the issue of guilt.' This statement, however, was not necessary to the decision, inasmuch as the defendant had prevented the prosecution from establishing the facts which led the officers to the belief that the defendant had committed the felony. In none of the cases cited by the Supreme Court in support of the statement we have quoted was the arrest based solely upon information given by a single informant.

The first case cited by the court is Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 69 S.Ct. 1302, 93 L.Ed. 1879. No question of action by the arresting officers on information given by an informer was involved, but the officers had acted upon knowledge that Brinegar was engaged in the unlawful trade of transporting from Missouri to Oklahoma and selling liquor in Oklahoma, upon personal observation made by them of his activities both in Missouri and Oklahoma, and upon his actions, the condition of his automobile in being overloaded, and his admission at the time of his arrest.

The second case cited is that of United States v. Li Fat Tong, 2 Cir., 152 F.2d 650. In this case Tong was known by the government agents to have been engaged in the illegal transportation and sale of narcotics. The arresting officers were advised by government officers in Chicago that Tong and a companion would leave Chicago on a certain airplane and that they were bringing with them a considerable amount of opium. When Tong alighted from the plane he was asked by the officers to come with them to their car so they could talk, and at this time Tong dropped a bottle which still contained a small amount of Yen Shee Suey, a solution of opium in wine. Thereupon he was arrested and his baggage searched, and a large amount of opium and some Yen Shee Suey found. It is evident that this case does not uphold the proposition that the statement of one informer is sufficient to constitute probable cause, for here the arresting officers not only knew that Tong had a prior criminal record for narcotics as well as other criminal charges, but were advised that the defendant then had narcotics in his possession and at the time of the arrest knew of his present possession of the bottle of Yen Shee Suey which he had attempted to dispose of; although Judge Learned Hand in his opinion does say that hearsay evidence derived from an informer is competent evidence on the issue of probable cause. 1 This, however, was said in connection with his holding that it was not error for the court to decline to require the government to disclose the names of its informants.

The case of Aitken v. White, 93 Cal.App.2d 134, 208 P.2d 788, which was cited by the court, is not authority for the proposition that information given by a single informer, without knowledge of any other facts, is sufficient to constitute probable cause. In that action, which was one for false arrest and imprisonment, the court held it error to refuse to receive into evidence the report of a detective agency concerning the plaintiff, and which had been received by the defendant prior to his placing the plaintiff under arrest, holding that hearsay evidence was admissible upon the question of probable cause--not to establish the truth of the statements made, but as evidence bearing upon the question as to whether the defendant had reasonable cause to make the arrest. In that case, however, the defendants had, prior to the arrest, made a very thorough and exhaustive investigation, and the arrest was not based upon the information given by a single informer but upon the investigation made and the report of the detective agency. The case stands only for the proposition that hearsay evidence is relevant to a decision by the court as to the existence or nonexistence of probable cause.

The last case cited by the court is Cook v. Singer Sewing Machine Co., 138 Cal.App. 418, 32 P.2d 430, which was also an action for damages for false arrest. This case did not involve any question of arrest made solely upon the basis of information given by a single informer. It stands solely for the proposition that suspicion itself is not sufficient to establish reasonable cause to make an arrest, but that it must appear that the officer's suspicion of the guilt of the person proposed to be arrested, and his belief in the assumed fact that the person to be arrested has committed a felony, is properly founded upon relevant facts or circumstances or credible information conveyed to him.

In the case at bar the officers did not have independent knowledge of any fact or circumstance which could give rise to even a mere suspicion that the defendant had committed a felony. They had only the statement of an informer who had 'usually' been reliable that she had, some days before, committed a felony.

The dictum which we have quoted from the Boyles decision is a part of the workable rules governing searches and seizures formulated by the Supreme Court under its pronouncement so to do in the Cahan case. We therefore feel bound...

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  • Trowbridge v. Superior Court In and For Los Angeles County
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 16 Agosto 1956
    ...her trial. An alternative writ of prohibition was issued by this court, a hearing was held and the writ was granted. Trowbridge v. Superior Court, Cal.App., 299 P.2d 436. A petition for rehearing was filed by the respondent and answered by petitioner. This court granted the petition for A r......

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