California law illegal searches immovable vehicles


I. The Thin Gray Line

Police show up at the campground and enter his tent without a warrant. They find cocaine there, and they use it as evidence to charge him with California drug possession for sale. But Bob's lawyer successfully challenges the introduction of the cocaine as evidence. That is because Bob had a legitimate, reasonable expectation of privacy in his tent—and so the police did not have the right to enter and search it without a warrant.

And here are some kinds of property in which courts have ruled that individuals do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy:.

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Example : Richard checks into a motel and pays for one night's lodging. Three days later, he has neither checked out nor paid for additional nights. The motel manager unlocks the room and finds a window open with a broken screen.

He calls the police. The police arrive, enter the room, and find Richard's possessions inside it. These possessions include some items that tie Richard to a recent nearby burglary. These items are admissible as evidence against Richard, even though the police did not have a warrant to search the motel room.

This is because Richard is considered to have abandoned the room—and the personal items he left inside it. Of course, having a legitimate expectation of privacy in property does not mean that police may not search or seize that property.


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It just means that they may only do so if:. A search warrant must be authorized by a state or federal judge. Example : Eric, a police detective, is building a case against Scott, whom he suspects is a prominent dealer in child pornography. Eric's prize piece of evidence against Scott is a statement by Mikhail, who was recently arrested for possessing child pornography. As part of his plea bargain agreement, Mikhail names the people from whom he acquired the illegal materials—including Scott. Based on Mikhail's statement, Eric gets a judge to sign a warrant to search an apartment rented to Scott.

The warrant specifies that it covers only that apartment, and authorizes a search for child pornography materials. But not all searches and seizures done with warrants will be constitutional. It is possible to challenge the admission of evidence from a search even if the search was done with a warrant—IF either of the following is true:. Example : Let's return to the detective Eric, and his search warrant for Scott's apartment.

When Eric and his colleagues search the apartment, they do not find any child pornography materials. They do, however, find a large stash of firearms. Because Scott has several felony convictions on his record, he is guilty of violating California's felon with a firearm laws. But the guns found in Scott's apartment may not be used to build a case against him for this crime. This is because they are not the kind of evidence described in the search warrant.

Police may enter and search your house , apartment, trailer, etc.

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When Can the Police Search Your Car in California? | Chambers Law Firm

Example : William is a suspect in a bank robbery. The police go to the house where they have been told he is renting a room, without a warrant. William is not at home—but his girlfriend Carrie is.

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She tells them that she and William are living together in the rented room. The police may search the room, and seize any evidence they find in it, legally. This is because Carrie has given them consent to search it—and she has the authority to do so because she lives there. When a police car approaches their car, they speed away, leading the police on a high-speed chase. The marijuana can be used as evidence against Matilda and Nicole, even though the police had no warrant to search the car. Their suspicious behavior—leading the police on a high-speed chase when they approached—created probable cause for a search of their car.

Example : Steven is arrested for DUI while driving his van under the influence.

Title (property)

Police order a tow truck to take his van to an impound lot—which is authorized under California DUI law. Before the van is impounded, an officer conducts a thorough inventory search. He ends up finding large amounts of both cocaine and cash. The cocaine and cash may be admitted into evidence against Steven—because they were found pursuant to a lawful inventory search of a car. Police may search your cell phone—or conduct a search of your computer or hard drive , tablet computer, or other electronic device—without a warrant, under the following circumstances:.

Members of the gang they are working with find out about their identity. They tell him that Andrea has gone missing. He tells his colleagues that there is a computer in one gang member's apartment that contains information on all of the houses and apartments used by the gang for their illicit activities. There is no time to get a warrant, but the police go to the gang member's computer and search it anyway, in the hopes of finding clues about where Andrea has been taken.

This computer search is probably not illegal, because it was done in an emergency in order to prevent physical injury to Andrea.

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Also, even if none of the above exceptions apply, police may seize and not search your phone or computer if you are under arrest—and hold onto it until they can get a warrant to search it. They may do this to prevent the destruction of criminal evidence that may be on the electronic device. And, finally, if police in California searched your cell phone without a warrant before June 25, , while you were under lawful arrest, prosecutors probably can use that evidence against you. This is because—prior to that date—the law in California was such that warrantless cell phone searches under these circumstances were legal.

Police search his mobile phone without a warrant at the time of his arrest. They find child pornography images among his digital photos. In June , the U. Supreme Court clarifies the law on cell phone searches—making it clear that the warrantless search of Paul's phone is now illegal. But because the police who searched Paul's phone were acting in good faith, in accordance with California law as it was at the time—the images can still be admitted as evidence against Paul.

Basically, the plain view exception says that when police are searching property legally with a warrant, or under a warrant exception , they may also search any items that are. Example : Police suspect that Sarah has participated in a recent armed robbery. They obtain a warrant to search her home. The warrant says that they will be looking for the items stolen in the robbery.

When police search Sarah's home, they do not find the stolen items—but they do see the kind of gun that is supposed to have been used in the robbery, lying on Sarah's dresser. The gun is admissible evidence even though it was not covered under the warrant. This is because it was in plain view while the police were conducting their lawful search—and obviously tied Sarah to the robbery. If the motion is granted—and that evidence is key to the prosecution's case against you—then you may be able to get the charges against you reduced, or even dismissed altogether.

Example : Police suspect that Courtney has been involved in a murder. They search Courtney's apartment without a warrant, and without her consent, while she is not home. They do not find anything incriminating there—but they do find a piece of paper with the name of a hotel, and a hotel room key. The police then go to a judge and get a warrant to search that hotel room. While searching the room, they find the murder weapon.

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