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The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that people have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Over the years, courts have interpreted the Fourth Amendment to mean police officers must obtain a warrant before conducting a search. While warrantless arrests are presumptively invalid, there are several fairly large exceptions to the warrant requirement.

Perhaps the most common exception to the warrant requirement is that an officer can make a warrantless arrest, “if there is probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been or is being committed.” This exception is the basis for most site arrests, where a police officer witnesses a crime, or has the victim of the crime identify the alleged offender, and arrests the suspect at the scene. A recent state appellate decision in a California robbery case illustrates how courts view warrantless arrests and how police officers try to get around the warrant requirement.

According to the court’s opinion, police were investigating a series of robberies that took place in 2012. During the investigation, the assigned officer reviewed surveillance video of several of the robberies. Four days after the most recent robbery, the officer was responding to a report of another robbery. The report indicated that the suspects were two black males, one taller than the other. The detective thought that these might be the men responsible for the robberies he was investigating.

On July 18, 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California DUI case discussing whether the lower court should have granted the defendant’s motion to suppress statements she made after she was arrested for driving under the influence. Ultimately, the court concluded that each of the statements at issue were not suppressible, and were properly considered by the lower court.

According to the court’s opinion, two people were sitting at a stoplight on Manchester Boulevard in Los Angeles. As the light turned green, they saw the defendant’s vehicle approaching from behind at high speed. The defendant crashed into their car while going an estimated 65 to 70 miles per hour. The speed limit was 35 miles per hour.

After the accident, the passenger in the car got out and approached the unconscious defendant. A few moments later, the defendant woke up, but refused to give the passenger her identification. A witness to the accident tried to get the defendant’s identification, but he was met with hostility. The defendant was also hostile to the police.

Criminal defendants in California and throughout the country have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, as a recent California case shows, there are exceptions to the general requirement that police obtain a warrant before conducting a search. The issue before the California appeals court was whether police could enter a residence without a warrant based on the role of the police as a “community caretaker.”

In that case, the police responded to a report that 11 gunshots had been fired. They came to a house and found a spent shell casing on the driveway. They arrested an individual on the scene who was yelling at the officers, and found additional spent casings behind a gate leading to the back yard. An officer knocked on a door on the side of a garage apartment several times. No one answered, but he heard what he believed was items being pushed against the door. The officers spoke to other people at a window and at the front door of the house.

According to police, the defendant’s father let police enter the house and was looking for a key to open the garage apartment when the defendant came out of the apartment, shutting the door behind him, which automatically locked the door. The officer arrested the defendant and kicked the door open to the garage apartment. He found a semiautomatic pistol and an explosive device. The officers later obtained a search warrant and searched the residence. They found an additional handgun, bullets, a body armor vest, spent shell casings, and a bag with a clear, rock-like substance. Police later found surveillance video which showed the defendant walking down the driveway, pulling out a gun and firing six shots into the air. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in his apartment because he claimed the police’s initial search was in violation of the Constitution.

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64, which eventually led to the legal recreational use of marijuana. Proposition 64 also contained provisions that reduced the criminal penalties for many California marijuana-related crimes, including for the cultivation and sale of marijuana. In a recent case, a state appellate court considered a defendant’s conviction for felony accessory.

According to the court’s opinion, in 2013, police officers had executed a search warrant at a residence, finding a large amount of marijuana. During their investigation, the defendant was arrested after officers saw him leave through the front door of the house. After his arrest, the defendant told officers that he was helping a friend package marijuana.

Initially, the defendant was charged with two felony counts of possession of marijuana for sale and cultivation of marijuana. However, under an agreement with the prosecution, the defendant pled guilty to felony accessory and was sentenced to a sentence of probation. After violating the terms of his probation several times, the judge revoked the defendant’s probation and sentenced him to two years of incarceration. The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that under the subsequently enacted Proposition 64, he should be entitled to a resentencing.

Just last month, we posted a blog post about the case Mitchell v. Wisconsin, which presented the court with the question of whether, and in what circumstances, police can draw the blood of an unconscious motorist. At the end of June, the Court released its opinion in the case. In what is the relatively rare case, the Court could not come up with a majority opinion. However, five of the nine Justices were able to agree on a result. Because of this, the future of the law is still somewhat in question, as no five Justices could agree on a rationale.

Justice Alito wrote the opinion for the plurality, and was joined by the Chief Justice, Justice Breyer and Justice Kavanaugh. In his opinion, Justice Alito explained that warrantless blood draws of an unconscious driver are most often permissible because “there is a compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant.” However, Justice Alito made room for exceptions, noting that in some “unusual cases” where a defendant can show that “his blood would not have been drawn had police not been seeking BAC information and police could not have reasonably judged that a warrant application would interfere with other pressing needs or duties.”

While Justice Alito’s opinion garnered the votes of four Justices, that is insufficient to create a majority opinion. This is referred to as a plurality opinion. However, Justice Thomas joined in the result of the plurality, although he based his decision on a different calculus. Justice Thomas would have held that a warrantless blood draw is always permissible if police officers have reason to believe that a motorist is under the influence – regardless of whether they are conscious or unconscious.

When a California criminal defendant’s case goes to trial, which of the potential jurors are ultimately selected to serve on a jury can be an important element of the trial. The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed this notion in a recent 7-2 decision in which it overturned a defendant’s conviction for murder due to an improper jury selection.

The defendant was tried six times for the 1996 murders of four employees at a Mississippi furniture store during an armed robbery. The defendant was black and three of the four victims were white. In each trial, there were issues with the selection of the jurors. During the first two trials, the prosecuting attorney used peremptory strikes to strike every one of the black prospective jurors. The juries in both trials convicted the defendant. Those verdicts were overturned based on the prosecutorial misconduct that occurred at trial.

During the third trial, the prosecution again used all of its strikes to remove black prospective jurors. The defendant was found guilty, but the conviction was overturned again because of the improper use of the prosecution’s peremptory strikes. The fourth and fifth times the defendant was tried, the cases ended in mistrials because the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.

In a recent California appellate decision, the court considered whether a conviction could stand against a defendant who was charged with the possession of methamphetamine-infused paper in prison. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was an inmate at a state prison in California. A correctional officer found eight small pieces of numbered paper, along with a greeting card inside the defendant’s cell. The officer had heard from other officers that inmates were recently obtaining methamphetamine-infused paper in prison.

The officer had a preliminary test done at the prison which showed the presence of methamphetamine on a corner of the greeting card and on one piece of paper. Further testing at a lab showed that the remainder of the greeting card was negative, but that some of the papers contained methamphetamine. The defendant was charged with and found guilty of possession of methamphetamine while in prison, in violation of Penal Code section 4573.6, and sentenced to six years in prison. The defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he possessed a usable amount of methamphetamine and that he knew the substance was methamphetamine.

Under section 4573.6 of the California Penal Code, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant unlawfully exercised control over a controlled substance; knew of the substance’s presence; knew that the substance was a controlled substance; and possessed the substance in a sufficient amount so as to be used as a controlled substance. Under California case law, a usable amount is defined as a quantity sufficient “to be used by someone as a controlled substance,” which “does not have to be enough in either amount or strength to [a]ffect the user,” but cannot be “useless traces or debris.”

A California appellate court recently upheld the blood-draw of a California man on probation after he refused his consent to the blood draw. According to the court’s opinion, a police officer stopped the defendant after he allegedly observed the defendant driving fast and crossing partially into another lane. The officer began to follow the defendant as he ran a stop sign, nearly hitting a pedestrian.

After the defendant was stopped, he refused to take a breath or alcohol test, and the officer brought the defendant to the police station to obtain a search warrant to take the defendant’s blood. The officer then learned that the defendant was on probation for a DUI offense, and the officer took the defendant to the hospital to draw his blood without obtaining a warrant. The defendant objected, but the officer had the defendant’s blood drawn, and the result showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.157 percent.

The defendant was charged with driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or more within 10 years of a prior DUI felony conviction, driving under the influence of alcohol within 10 years of a prior DUI felony conviction, driving with a suspended license, and resisting arrest. The defendant argued that he did not consent to the blood draw, and that his blood was taken in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In a recent decision, the California Supreme Court decided that defendants who had not yet been sentenced at the time of Proposition 47’s effective date were entitled to the initial sentencing under Proposition 47. Proposition 47 was a 2014 ballot initiative that reduced certain felony offenses to misdemeanors. It also allowed certain defendants who were already serving their sentences to petition the court for resentencing. However, the resentencing provision only allows resentencing if a trial court finds that the defendant would not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety. Proposition 47 was approved during the November 2014 election, and took effect on November 5, 2015.

According to the court’s opinion, in January 2015, the defendant was charged with unlawfully taking or driving a vehicle and with receiving a stolen vehicle. He was alleged to have committed the offenses in August 2013, when he was found driving a stolen car. A jury found him guilty of driving a vehicle without permission under section 10851 of the Vehicle Code. The court sentenced him to three years in prison, which was increased to ten years because of sentence enhancements for prior prison terms and prior convictions. Proposition 47 went into effect after the defendant committed the offense but before he was charged, tried, or sentenced.

Under Proposition 47, offenses of obtaining property by theft where the value of the property is $950 or less are generally considered misdemeanor offenses. The defendant argued that the statute applied to convictions under section 10851 of the Vehicle Code, and that his conviction must be reduced to a misdemeanor offense according to the new penal code provision because the jury never found that the value of the vehicle exceeded $950. The issue before the California Supreme Court was whether Proposition 47 applied to defendants who committed crimes before the law’s effective date but who were tried or sentenced after the effective date.

The issue of warrantless blood-draws has been the focus of several high-profile Supreme Court opinions over the past few years. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in another DUI case involving the warrantless blood-draw of an unconscious motorist. The issue before the Court in Mitchell v. Wisconsin was whether a statute that authorizes a blood-draw from an unconscious motorist is lawful under the Fourth Amendment. Whatever the Supreme Court decides will likely have a decisive impact on California’s implied-consent law and implied-consent laws across the United States.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested in May 2013 for driving while intoxicated. Police took him to the hospital, but the defendant became unconscious before he could provide consent to draw his blood. The hospital workers drew the defendant’s blood at the request of the police and without a warrant. The defendant’s blood-alcohol concentration was .222, and he was subsequently charged with driving while intoxicated.

The defendant argued that the blood test was not admissible in court because his blood was taken without a warrant. The prosecution argued that the police did not need a warrant to draw his blood under the state’s implied-consent statute. Under that state’s statute, by virtue of driving a vehicle, motorists provide consent to undergo blood, urine, and breath tests to determine the motorist’s alcohol or drug content. The state’s supreme court upheld the search as lawful, ruling in the state’s favor 5-2. However, there was no consensus on the reasoning as to why it was lawful. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is still pending, and is expected later this year.

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