10/24/2006California: Illegal Traffic Stop Invalidates Search
A California Appeals Court ruling would strike down a conviction based upon a fabricated traffic stop.
The California Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 earlier this month that if a police officer lies in order to make a traffic stop, any evidence found in a vehicle search made after that stop is inadmissible.
"Fabricating the grounds for a traffic stop and repeating this fabrication under oath at a suppression hearing strikes at the very core of our system of law," the court wrote.
The case began when two Bell Gardens narcotics detectives pulled over Guillermo Rodriguez, claiming his rear brake lights were burnt out. As they looked up his registration information, the officers found that Rodriguez had an outstanding warrant and proceeded to arrest him. A bag of methamphetamine was later found in his car.
Three days later at the impound lot, a witness noticed that Rodriguez's brake lights were fully functional. Moreover, the court noted that narcotics detectives do not generally issue citations for minor traffic offenses and in this instance the detectives never wrote a ticket for that violation.
The court decided to have a lower court investigate whether the officers, "cooked up a reason to stop Rodriguez in order to investigate possible drug or gang activity." Rodriguez would go free if the lower court finds the officers lied.
"Failing to invoke the most drastic remedy available to a court would have the effect of legitimizing deceitful conduct on the part of the police and permitting them to conduct a traffic stop for any reason or no reason at all in contravention of leading United States and California Supreme Court opinions," the court majority concluded. "It is difficult to imagine a more flagrant example of official misconduct than perjury by a police officer."
Justice Dennis M. Perluss offered a dissent saying that, "Honest mistakes happen, even when police officers are involved. Accordingly, I believe it is premature to conclude, as does the majority, if the traffic stop was improper, the officers involved in stopping Rodriguez necessarily engaged in flagrant misconduct that requires suppression of the methamphetamine discovered in his car."
The full opinion is available in a 61k PDF file at the source link below.