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Name: People v. Eng
Case #: A094853
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 12/27/2001
Subsequent History: Rev. denied 4/10/02.
Summary

Administrative search without a warrant. The U.S. Coast Guard responded to a distress call from a small sailboat. In a cabin below deck, they found one occupant ill and transferred him via their boat to a waiting ambulance. Appellant and his disabled sailboat were then towed in and officers conducted a “post-search and rescue (SAR) boarding” to check the vessel for compliance with federal regulations. Contraband was found below deck. Appellant contended that there was no justification for the below-deck search. Addressing title 14 United States Code section 89(a), the court held that the Coast Guard has plenary authority to stop and search vessels for document and safety inspections; the Fourth Amendment also requires application of a reasonableness standard. Balancing competing individual and governmental interests here, the court found no violation of appellant’s rights. The Coast Guard has a legitimate public safety interest in detecting violations of safety regulations; in particular, appellant’s vessel was disabled and adrift in the San Francisco Bay, there were no lights working, the radio wasn’t working, the boat’s “head” was illegal pumping sewage directly overboard, the intrusion here was minimal, and appellant himself summoned the Coast Guard’s assistance after dark. Finally, maritime activity is closely regulated and SAR-boarding here was done in compliance with safety regulations and administrative searches.