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Name: People v. Banks (2023) 97 Cal.App.5th 376
Case #: B312618
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 6
Opinion Date: 11/20/2023
Summary

Suppression motion properly denied where evidence found during search of defendant’s car would inevitably have been discovered during a lawful inventory search. At 1:40 a.m., police pulled defendant over because his car did not have proper license plates and he was not wearing a seatbelt. There was no registration sticker on the front window of the car, and defendant did not have a license or provide proof of ownership of the vehicle. The front seat passenger (Doe) appeared under 18, twice gave a false name and birthdate, and wore revealing clothes under her coat, leading the officer to believe she might be a runaway. During a search of the car, the officer found wigs, revealing clothing, 25 condoms, feminine hygiene products, and a motel receipt. Defendant moved to suppress evidence from the vehicle search, arguing the decision to tow and search the car was obviously motivated by an investigatory purpose. The motion was denied and defendant was convicted of “forcible” human trafficking of a minor. He appealed. Held: Affirmed. The inevitable discovery doctrine acts as an exception to the exclusionary rule and permits the admission of otherwise excluded evidence if the prosecution can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the information would have been inevitably discovered by lawful means, such as routine police procedures. Here, the traffic stop was lawful and defendant had pulled into a private parking lot. The car was older with paper plates, and the officer reasonably suspected the vehicle may have been stolen. The police department had a policy regarding inventory searches, and officers are permitted to exercise discretion in determining whether to impound a vehicle, so long as that discretion is exercised according to standard criteria and on the basis of something other than suspicion of evidence of criminal activity. On these facts, the trial court correctly concluded the evidence would have been inevitably discovered pursuant to a lawful inventory search. [Editor’s Note: Defendant also unsuccessfully challenged the search of Doe’s cellphone, asserting she was coerced into giving consent and that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data transmitted to her phone.]

Sufficient evidence supported the jury’s finding, in connection with the conviction for human trafficking of a minor, that defendant used force, fear, fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury as set forth in section 236.1(c)(2). On appeal, defendant argued that Doe was a prostitute long before she met defendant and that she previously left pimps who treated her poorly; thus, although defendant used force or fear with her on occasion, there was insufficient evidence that this caused or persuaded her to engage in commercial sex acts. The court disagreed. This was a textbook case of a perpetrator using both force and fear to induce a 14-year-old victim to engage in commercial sex. The prosecution’s expert testified about the nature of human trafficking, including common techniques pimps use to break down the victim and exert total control, making the victim completely dependent on the trafficker. Here, Doe testified about the type of control defendant exerted over her. He kept her isolated and completely dependent on him, and used psychological manipulation as well as physical violence to maintain control over her. Text messages between Doe and defendant provided further evidence that defendant trafficked Doe through force or fear.

Even if defendant’s claim of prosecutorial misconduct had been properly preserved, it would fail on the merits. Although section 236.1(c) refers to a person who “induces” or “persuades” a minor to engage in prostitution, the prosecutor repeatedly used the word “encourage” to describe the legal standard for human trafficking. Defense counsel’s objection was sustained, but counsel did not request that the jury be admonished to disregard the prosecutor’s misstatement of the law, so the argument is forfeited. Even if preserved, the claim would fail because the jury instructions the trial court gave were correct, and it is presumed the court followed those instructions rather than any conflicting statements by counsel. [Editor’s Note: The court further concluded the trial court was not required to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of attempted pandering of a minor (§ 266i, subd. (b)), as there was no substantial evidence that defendant was guilty of the lesser offense of attempted pandering but not the greater offense of trafficking a minor.]