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Name: People v. Lopez
Case #: S238627
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 11/25/2019
Summary

In re Arturo D. (2002) 27 Cal.4th 60 is overruled to the extent that it created a categorical exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement for searches to obtain a driver’s identification following a traffic stop. Acting on an anonymous tip about a motorist’s erratic driving, a police officer approached Lopez after she parked and exited her car. When the officer asked if she had a driver’s license, she said she did not. Police then detained her for unlicensed driving and, without asking her name, searched a purse inside the car for her personal identification and found drugs. The trial court held the search was invalid under Arizona v. Gant (2009) 556 U.S. 332. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding the search was authorized by Arturo D. The California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed and remanded. Arturo D. created an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement: when a driver has been detained for a traffic infraction and fails to produce vehicle registration or personal identification, police may conduct a limited search of areas within the vehicle where such documentation reasonably may be expected to be found. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Gant that a search incident to arrest to look for weapons or destructible evidence is permissible only when the arrestee is actually capable of reaching the area to be searched. Reconsidering Arturo D. in light of subsequent precedent, the court here concluded Arturo D. did not give sufficient weight to the intrusion on privacy associated with allowing police to look through drivers’ wallets and purses for identification, particularly where law enforcement can use alternative methods to obtain identification information, and should no longer be followed to the extent it permits warrantless searches to locate a driver’s identification following a traffic stop.

In circumstances where a police officer believes the driver has provided false identification, a search may be permissible under other exceptions to the warrant requirement. Under the automobile exception, an officer may search a vehicle if there is probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime will be found inside. Lying to an officer about one’s identity is a separate criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment in county jail. (Pen. Code, § 148.9; Veh. Code, §§ 31, 40000.5). Thus, if an officer has probable cause to believe the driver is lying about his or her identity, the officer may search the vehicle for evidence of that crime.

The warrantless search of defendant’s vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment. In the instant case, the officer was able to locate Lopez because she pulled up at the house where the vehicle was registered. Officer Moe detained Lopez (in handcuffs) and proceeded directly to searching the purse on the passenger seat of the vehicle without even asking Lopez her name or using any number of other approaches to ascertain her identity. “Under Gant, Officer Moe could not have searched Lopez’s vehicle if he had arrested her for unlicensed driving instead of simply detaining her. Searching her vehicle for her personal identification before she was arrested was no less unreasonable.” However, because the Court of Appeal did not have occasion to consider the Attorney General’s argument that the officer acted in good faith based on the existing state of the law, the court remanded to the Court of Appeal for further proceedings. [Editor’s Note: Justice Chin filed a dissent, which Chief Justice Cantil-Sakayue and Justice Corrigan joined. The dissent argued the scope of Arturo D. was significantly more limited than the majority opinion described, and that Gant was not applicable because it addressed a different exception to the warrant requirement (i.e. search incident to arrest).]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/S238627.PDF