As a local Torrance Criminal Lawyer I see many cases that cause concern for practitioners. This is one of them, in this opinion the person was unlawfully searched by Torrance cops based on new law, however, the appeals Court let the Judge rely on the old case law to deny him a dismissal of the charges.
Torrance police observed a suspect named Macabeo commit a traffic infraction while riding his bicycle. Macabeo was stopped and police performed first a patdown search and then a consent search of Macabeo’s pockets. One officer searched Macabeo’s cell phone and found child pornography, for which he was arrested. After the denial of his motion to suppress evidence in the Torrance court, Macabeo pled guilty to the charge. He appealed.
Held: Affirmed. A custodial arrest may be made for a traffic violation. An exception exists to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement for searches incident to arrest. In People v. Diaz (2011) 51 Cal.4th 84, the court approved a warrantless search of an arrestee’s cell phone in the absence of exigent circumstances. Diaz was overruled by Riley v. California (2014) 134 S.Ct. 2473, which held that, absent exigent circumstances, an arrestee’s cell phone could not be searched without a warrant. But in Davis v. U.S. (2011) 131 S.Ct. 2419, evidence improperly seized from a car incident to arrest was not subject to exclusion where officers reasonably relied on binding appellate precedent. Here, the search was authorized by Diaz at the time it was conducted and the good faith exception applies.
This type of scenario is quite common in the criminal courts. Cases come down and change the law after the defendant is brought to Court. Here, the defendant was stuck with the old law instead of the new Supreme Court interpretation that would now yield a different result.