“A person arrested for driving under the influence may not defeat a ‘search incident to arrest’ by locking incriminating evidence inside his vehicle.” Police received information that Quick was involved in drug activity and had firearms so they conducted a traffic stop based on Vehicle Code violations. Because Quick looked like he was under the influence, police had him step out of his car for a field sobriety test. Quick exited, took off his jacket (drugs were in the pocket), threw it into his car, then locked the car with the keys inside. He was arrested for driving under the influence of a controlled substance. Police had the car towed because it was blocking a driveway and was 24 inches from the curb, posing a traffic hazard. They conducted an inventory search and found drugs, paraphernalia, and a Taser. Quick appealed the denial of his suppression motion. Held: Affirmed. “Police may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest.” (Arizona v. Gant (2009) 556 U.S. 332, 351.) Relying on People v. Nottoli (2011) 199 Cal.App.4th 531 and People v. Evans (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 735, the court here concluded it was reasonable to believe that Quick’s car contained evidence (drugs) of the crime he was arrested for (driving under the influence of a controlled substance). Quick admitted using drugs earlier in the day and was under the influence of a controlled substance while driving. When he threw his jacket in the car and locked the door, the officer thought the behavior was consistent with what someone who was driving under the influence would do to hide drugs. The subsequent search of the car was reasonable as a search incident to arrest. The trial court did not err in denying the suppression motion.
The inventory search of defendant’s car was not an unlawful ruse to facilitate law enforcement’s narcotics investigation. Under the community caretaking doctrine, police may impound and search a car so long as they do so in furtherance of a community caretaking purpose, like removing vehicles from the streets that are “impeding traffic or threatening public safety and convenience.” (South Dakota v. Opperman (1976) 428 U.S. 364, 369; People v. Williams (2006) 145 Cal.App.4th 756, 761-762.) Here, the officer testified that Quick’s car was blocking a driveway, but the driveway’s owner (Quick’s friend) said that it was okay. The officer also testified that the car was too far from the curb and obstructed traffic. This testimony was supported by photos and the testimony of other officers. Based on this evidence, Quick’s car was properly impounded under Vehicle Code section 22651, subdivisions (b) and (h). Since the car was properly impounded, it was also properly subjected to an inventory search to document what was in the car and to protect the tow company and police department.
The full opinion is on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B268751.PDF