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Name: People v. Cervantes
Case #: D069959
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 05/18/2017

A vehicle search based on a passenger’s probation status may extend beyond the probationer’s person and seat, but is confined to areas the officer reasonably believes the probationer could have stowed or discarded items, including an unlocked center console. Police stopped Cervantes for driving with expired registration and searched the car after learning that Cervantes’ female passenger was on searchable probation. The search began in two bags in the back seat. Both bags contained items that clearly belonged to a man but officers continued to search them anyway and found drugs. Officers also found more drugs in the center console. Cervantes moved to suppress the evidence on the basis that the search of his bags should have ceased when the officers discovered they contained men’s items and obviously did not belong to the female passenger on probation. The trial court denied the motion. Cervantes pleaded guilty to drug offenses and appealed. Held: Affirmed. In People v. Schmitz (2012) 55 Cal.4th 909, 926, the court held that “a vehicle search based on a passenger’s parole status may extend beyond the parolee’s person and the seat he or she occupies,” but is “confined to those areas of the passenger compartment where the officer reasonably expects the parolee could have stowed personal belongings or discarded items when aware of police activity.” After analyzing the Schmitz decision, the Court of Appeal concluded that its reasoning applies to vehicle searches based on a passenger’s probation status. Here, police were entitled to search the unlocked center console in Cervantes’ car based on his passenger’s probation status, and her proximity and access to, the center console. Once drugs were found in the center console, the police would have been justified in searching the remainder of the vehicle and its contents. Because police intended to search the entire vehicle, the drugs in the bags would inevitably have been discovered. [Editor’s Note: The court declined to decide whether it was reasonable for police to continue to searching Cervantes’ bags after finding that they contained men’s items because it relied on the inevitable discovery doctrine to conclude that the drugs in the bags would have been discovered after the center console was searched.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: