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Name: People v. Byers
Case #: G051068
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 12/14/2016
Summary

Trial court abused its discretion by excluding evidence that police did not comply with the knock-notice rule. Byers’ roommate, Wallace, who had common authority over the premises they shared, was stopped by police outside the residence based on suspected drug dealing and consented to the search of his room. Police knocked and announced prior to entering the apartment, at which time they saw Byers sitting at a table with drugs in plain sight. Based on their observations, the officers obtained a warrant and conducted a search of Byers’ bedroom. After his motion to suppress evidence was denied, Byers pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine for sale (Health & Saf. Code, § 11351) and misdemeanor possession of nitrous oxide (Pen. Code, § 381b). He appealed the denial of his suppression motion, arguing that the court abused its discretion by excluding evidence on whether the officers violated the knock-notice rule. Held: Affirmed. The Fourth Amendment prohibits a search without a warrant absent an exception, such as consent. When police obtain consent to search from a co-occupant who is off the shared premises, they must comply with the knock-notice requirement, which requires the police to knock on the door, announce their identity and purpose, and wait a reasonable period of time before attempting to forcibly enter. Here, Byer’s attempted to present evidence regarding the manner of entry into the apartment but the court excluded it based on its belief that the knock-notice requirement did not apply. On appeal, both parties acknowledged that the officers in this case were subject to the knock-notice requirement. As a result, the trial court erred by foreclosing the defense’s presentation of the evidence.

The error was harmless because, even if a knock-notice violation did occur, the violation would not require suppression of the evidence. The exclusionary rule is not the appropriate remedy for violation of the knock-notice requirement. (Hudson v. Michigan (2006) 547 U.S. 586.) Instead, an officer’s violation of the rule is deterred by the risk of civil suit and/or internal police discipline. However, Byers argued that the exclusionary rule was the proper remedy for the alleged violation here because it left him with insufficient time to reach the door and deny consent to enter. (See Georgia v. Randolph (2006) 547 U.S. 103.) The Court of Appeal disagreed. Randolph “drew a fine, but bright line” when it ruled that a co-tenant’s permission to search does not suffice where a potential defendant is at the door objecting to the entry. The court here “decline[d] to embark on [a] road to speculation” that would require it to presume that Byers would have reached the door within the time the officers were reasonably required to wait and that the officers would not have seen the drugs in plain view when Byers answered the door. In a drug case like this one, the proper measure of a reasonable wait time for purposes of the knock-notice requirement is how long it would take to dispose of the suspected drugs. Officers do not need to wait long enough for the resident to reach the door. Moreover, it is not a purpose of the knock-notice requirement to prevent the government from seeing and taking evidence pursuant to a co-tenant’s valid consent.

Substantial evidence supports the trial court’s finding that Wallace’s consent to search his bedroom was voluntary. Byers argued his roommate’s consent to search was coerced because it was given while Wallace was being detained by police outside the apartment. A reviewing court applies the substantial evidence standard to the trial court’s finding that the consent given was voluntary. In this regard the trial court found the searching officer a credible witness, but that Wallace was not. The officer testified that Wallace admitted to having an illegal gun and drugs in his bedroom and agreed to have it searched. No threats or promises were made to cause Wallace to consent to the search. Substantial evidence supports the trial court’s finding.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/G051068.PDF