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Name: People v. Tran
Case #: D074605
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 10/24/2019
Summary

Exigent circumstances justified the warrantless seizure of defendant’s dashboard camera where officer reasonably believed the camera contained evidence defendant drove recklessly before an accident and the evidence could be destroyed. Tran’s vehicle crossed a double yellow line on a sharp curve in the road and collided with a motorcyclist who sustained life-threatening injuries. Evidence at the scene indicated Tran was traveling at a high rate of speed and officers noticed he had removed his dashboard camera. The dashboard camera was seized and a search warrant was obtained for its contents. Tran’s motion to suppress evidence from the dashboard camera was denied and he was convicted by a jury of reckless driving. He appealed. Held: Affirmed. Where law enforcement authorities have probable cause to believe that a container holds contraband or evidence of a crime, but have not secured a search warrant, the Fourth Amendment permits seizure of the property, pending issuance of a warrant to examine its contents, if the exigencies of the circumstances demand it or some other recognized exception to the warrant requirement is present. (United States v. Place (1983) 462 U.S. 696, 701.) Exigent circumstances include the need to prevent the destruction of evidence. Here, the dashboard camera was a type of container holding digital images. The investigating officer had probable cause to believe Tran was driving recklessly based on physical evidence and witness statements. The officer was also familiar with dashboard cameras and had reason to believe the camera contained evidence of the crime. The camera was in Tran’s possession and the officer was concerned Tran would destroy the camera or its memory card. The circumstances at the time the camera was seized would have caused a reasonable officer to believe that immediate acquisition of the camera was necessary to preserve the potential evidence on it. The trial court did not err in denying the motion to suppress. [Editor’s Note: The Court of Appeal also concluded the seizure of the dashboard camera and the subsequent three day holding of the camera while law enforcement obtained a search warrant did not render the seizure unreasonable under Place.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/D074605.PDF