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Name: Robey v. Superior Court of Santa Barbara County
Case #: S197735
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 06/27/2013

A container’s mobility may constitute exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless seizure, but mobility alone does not justify a warrantless search of the container once it has been seized. A FedEx employee notified police that a package smelling of marijuana had been dropped off for shipment to Illinois and that FedEx would not deliver it. An officer responded to the business and seized the package as evidence. He took it to the police station where he opened it without first obtaining a warrant and discovered 444 grams of marijuana inside. When petitioner went to the business to inquire about the package, police were notified and he was arrested. The trial court denied petitioner’s subsequent motion to suppress evidence, finding that exigent circumstances and inevitable discovery justified the search. He sought a writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal granted the petition and directed the trial court to grant the motion to suppress. Affirmed in part and reversed in part. The mobility of the package constituted exigent circumstances justifying the officer’s seizure of the package so long as he had probable cause to believe it contained contraband. Petitioner did not argue the seizure here was improper. Once the package was seized, it was no longer mobile and, absent an exception to the warrant requirement, the police were required to obtain a search warrant before opening it. Outside the context of an automobile search, mobility of a container by itself does not justify a warrantless search. Absent unusual circumstances where transporting or storing a container poses practical difficulties for law enforcement, the concerns justifying an immediate search of an automobile and the containers within it do not apply to packages consigned for shipment. The court declined to address a “plain smell” theory justifying a search as it had not been adequately raised in the trial court.