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Name: People v. Schmitz
Case #: S186707
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 12/03/2012

Search of a vehicle in which a passenger is a parolee is considered under the totality of the circumstances, with the passenger’s parolee status being a salient circumstance; and the limits of the search flow from the nexus of the parolee and the items searched. An officer stopped a vehicle after observing it turn into a dead-end alley lined with garages of a condominium complex. Contacting appellant, the driver, the officer noted that his arms were covered with abscesses, which the officer associated with drug use. After a male passenger in the car said he was on parole the officer searched the car and found a syringe in a woman’s purse, two syringes in a chips bag, and some methamphetamine in a pair of shoes. The trial court denied the driver’s suppression motion but the appellate court reversed, holding that the passenger’s parole status did not provide justification. Reversed. The scope of the search is evaluated under the totality of the circumstances balancing test which recognizes the state’s interest in supervising parolees and ensuring compliance with terms of their release, balanced against the reduced expectation of privacy of the occupants of a vehicle. As to the limits of the search, they flow from the nexus between the parolee and the area or items searched. The nexus likewise depends on the totality of the circumstances and a vehicle search based on the passenger’s parolee status may extend beyond his person and the seat he occupies. The search is not limitless and is confined to those areas of the passenger compartment where the officer reasonably expects the parolee could have stowed personal belongings or discarded items when aware of police activity. Under this criteria, the officer’s search of the back seat was reasonable as the parolee had access to it.