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Name: People v. Leal
Case #: H031174
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 10/29/2009
Summary

Where the suspect has been immobilized and removed from the scene, and no one else is present, a search that is incident to arrest does not justify a search of the area the suspect occupied prior to the arrest. Police officers, who had prior information that appellant might be armed and using drugs, went to appellant’s residence to serve misdemeanor arrest warrants. Forty-five minutes elapsed before appellant opened the door and stood at the threshold, at which time he was arrested. He was handcuffed and placed in a patrol vehicle and the police did a protective sweep of the small residence, finding no one. An officer then searched the area near where appellant had been standing prior to his arrest. Pushing aside a shirt on a chair that was approximately a foot from appellant’s location prior to the arrest, the officer found a loaded semiautomatic pistol with the serial numbers removed. The trial court denied the suppression motion, finding the warrantless search was justified for officer safety and preservation of evidence. The appellate court reversed, finding that under Chimel v. California (1969) 395 U.S. 752, the search was not valid. The California Supreme Court remanded with direction to reconsider in view of Arizona v. Gant (2009) ___ U.S. ___ [129 S.Ct. 1710]. The appellate court agreed with appellant that the case was governed by Chimel and in this instance, Gant only reinforced the reasoning of Chimel. Because appellant was secured and the police had determined no other parties were present, there was no justification for the search. Suppression of the evidence was proper because the Fourth Amendment violation was serious enough to call for a need to compel police to respect the right of citizens to be safe from unreasonable search.