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Name: People v. Diaz
Case #: E054229
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 02/06/2013

Defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in data recorded in her vehicle’s sensing diagnostic module (SDM) and admission of the information which was obtained in a warrantless search does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Diaz appealed her involuntary manslaughter and gross vehicular manslaughter convictions following her involvement in a fatal accident while driving under the influence. She challenged the denial of her motion to suppress data downloaded from her vehicle’s SDM during a warrantless search. Held: Affirmed. The expectation of privacy in a vehicle is a diminished one. Here, the scope of the search did not exceed probable cause. The vehicle was lawfully impounded and was itself evidence, because it was the instrumentality of a crime. Any subsequent search of the vehicle to determine its evidentiary value was not a “search” within the Fourth Amendment, because the SDM was part of the vehicle itself. Diaz had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the data recorded, as her speed and braking may be readily observed. Even if it is assumed the SDM data was improperly admitted, any error was harmless given the overwhelming evidence of guilt.

A court order to obtain the SDM data is not required for certain vehicles pursuant to Vehicle Code section 9951. Section 9951, which applies to all vehicles manufactured after 2004, requires that the existence of SDMs be revealed in the owner’s manual and prescribes specific conditions for downloading the SDMs data, including the requirement of a court order. However, Diaz’s vehicle was manufactured in 2002, so the statute was inapplicable.