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Name: People v. Hughston
Case #: A118939
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 11/26/2008

A person can have an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in a tent on public property such that a warrantless search of the tent may constitute a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to privacy. In order to determine whether a warrantless search violates the Fourth Amendment, it must be established that a person has manifested a subjective expectation of privacy in the object of the challenged search, and that society recognizes that expectation as reasonable. In this case, appellant drove in a rented Hummer to the Mendocino County fairgrounds for a music festival. Once there, he parked the Hummer in an area specifically set aside for camping during the festival and then surrounded the Hummer with a tent-like structure that also included smaller tents and an eating area. A doorway fashioned in the structure provided entry and exit. After observing appellant in what appeared to be drug sales on the fairgrounds, a narcotic officer searched appellant and his backpack and discovered baggies containing illegal controlled substances. He then located appellant’s Hummer in the tent-like structure and searched it and found appellant’s inventory of drugs. The trial court denied appellant’s suppression motion as to the search of the Hummer, finding that it was legal under the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment. The appellate court disagreed, noting that to search the automobile, the officer first had to pass through the tarped-off area. As to this area, the parties agreed that appellant had demonstrated a subjective expectation of privacy. Under the totality of the circumstances, the record also supported a finding that appellant had an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in the tarp structure–based on the nature of the structure and the fact that it was erected on an area set aside for camping during the festival. The court also rejected respondent’s contention that the denial of the suppression motion was proper under an inevitable discovery exception because respondent had not demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that, as a result of a separate line of investigation, application of routine police procedure, or some other circumstance, the drugs seized from the Hummer would have been discovered by lawful means. (The existence of probable cause to obtain a search warrant does not justify application of the inevitable discovery exception.)