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Name: Mosley v. Superior Court (2024) 101 Cal.App.5th 243
Case #: C099530
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 04/05/2024

Under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement, a detective’s belief that gang members frequently hide guns in their cars, combined with defendant’s position 20 feet from his car, did not provide probable cause to search the vehicle for contraband. Officers received a call that a group of men in an apartment complex parking lot were creating a music video, and one of them, a thin young man dressed in black, was holding a handgun. Once at the location, officers instructed the group of six men to put their hands in the air. D.M., a juvenile in a black shirt and blue pants, fled; two minutes later, he was detained and searched and officers found firearms. One of the officers recognized defendant, a heavyset man in all black, as a gang member prohibited from owning firearms. Defendant was standing 20 feet away from his vehicle. He was pat searched and nothing was found, and then detained in a patrol car. Forty minutes after they first arrived, officers searched defendant’s car and found a loaded magazine; they then pat searched defendant a second time and found a handgun. In the trial court, defendant filed a motion to suppress, which was denied. He sought writ review. Held: Petition granted. Under the automobile exception, officers may search a vehicle without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity or contraband. The People argued defendant was a validated gang member with a history of firearms convictions, who partially matched the description of the person said to have a firearm. But probable cause to search an item concerns the connection of the items sought with crime and the present location of the items. Here, the detective’s belief, based on his training and experience, that gang members frequently hide guns in their cars, is no substitute for objective facts supporting an inference that evidence of a crime may be found in the vehicle. Likewise, the mere possibility that defendant had time to stash a gun in the car does not, without more, establish probable cause. Accordingly, the loaded magazine found in the vehicle should have been suppressed.

The second patsearch of defendant, which resulted in the discovery of the handgun, was the result of an unreasonably prolonged detention; thus, the suppression motion should have been granted. An officer can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot, even if the officer lacks probable cause. Such an investigative detention must be temporary and last no longer than necessary to effectuate its purpose. Here, upon finding the gun on D.M., reasonable officers would have concluded their mission was complete, and would not have continued to detain defendant. The original purpose of the detention was not to open an investigation into gangs and guns generally. The officers may have been justified in detaining all members of the group for a brief period to ensure officer safety, given the large number. But once the officers found nothing in their first pat search of defendant, he should have been released.