Sunday, January 20, 2019

Case o' The Week: The Fourth in the Ninth Goes Back to the Future - Lamar Johnson and Search "Incident" to Arrest


A search “incident” to arrest can happen before an arrest, and need not be supported by probable cause for the actual arrest that followed the search that was “incident” to arrest.



(And you thought the space-time quirks of “Back to the Future” were confusing.)
  United States v. Lamar Johnson, 2019 WL 137929 (9th Cir. Jan. 9, 2019), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Wallace, joined by Judge Rawlinson.
 Compelling concurrence by Judge Watford.
  Hard-fought appeal by Oakland AFPD Robin Packel, Northern District of California.  

Hon. Judge J. Clifford Wallace
Facts: Johnson was stopped while driving. Id. at *2. The cop claimed he then smelled marijuana. Id. The officer asked for registration and insurance: Johnson explained he was borrowing the car and rummaged through the glovebox. Id. The officer opined this rummaging was inconsistent with how someone would (sincerely?) dig through a glove box. Id. The officer learned Johnson had been arrested for parole violations. Id. He asked Johnson to step out of the car, searched him, discovered he was wearing a bulletproof vest, and arrested him for being a felon in possession of body armor. Id. A later car search revealed a gun, drugs, scales, and plastic bags. Id.
  The defense motion to suppress was denied.
  This was the Northern District of California, so there was no conditional plea -- the defense and the District Court were forced to go through the rigamarole of a stip facts bench trial to preserve an important Fourth Amendment issue for appeal. Id. at *3.

Issue(s): “Johnson argues that the warrantless search of his person, [and] the warrantless search of his car . . . violated the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at *3. “[A] search, incident to a lawful arrest, does not necessarily need to follow the arrest to comport with the Fourth Amendment.” Id. “[W]hen the officer’s known facts provide probable cause to arrest for an offense, the officer’s subjective reason for making the arrest need not be the criminal offense as to which the known facts provide probable cause.” Id. at *3 (internal quotations and citations omitted).
  “The question presented in this case is whether these two well-established principles may coincide without violating the Fourth Amendment. Johnson contends that to do so would create a ‘search incident to probable cause’ rule, allowing officers to search a person whenever probable cause to arrest exists. Johnson argues that the existence of such a rule will cause widespread fishing expeditions that are pre-textual and discriminatory.” Id. at *4.

Held: “[T]he precise crime for which an officer has probable cause is irrelevant. . . . So long as the search was incident to and preceding a lawful arrest—which is to say that probable cause to arrest existed and the search and arrest are roughly contemporaneous, . . . the arresting officer’s subjective crime of arrest need not have been the crime for which probable cause existed.” Id. at *4.
  “We . . . join our sister circuits in holding that Knowles does not prevent a search incident to a lawful arrest from occurring before the arrest itself, even if the crime of arrest is different from the crime for which probable cause existed.” Id. at *4 (emphases added).

Of Note: Under Lamar Johnson, an officer can now:
  1) search "incident" to arrest before an arrest, and
  2) that search can later be upheld, even if the probable cause wasn’t for the actual arrest that (followed) the search “incident” to arrest!
  Huh?
Hon. Judge Paul Watford
  In a well-reasoned concurrence, Judge Watford politely tears apart this troubling holding. Id. at *7 *(Watford, J., concurring). He explains that he is forced to concur because of the Ninth’s 2004 decision in Smith. Id. Judge Watford persuasively explains, however, that the Smith decision is “doctrinally unsound” and not “consistent” with Supreme Court precedents. Id. at *9.
  The concurrence ends with a trenchant understatement: “it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.” Id. at *10. Judge Watford correctly warns, “So long as Smith remains the law of our circuit, it will only exacerbate this problem.” Id.
  Judge Watford is right - Smith (and Johnson) should go en banc. This dangerous Fourth Amendment decision, and this line of Circuit authority that has strayed far afield from SCOTUS precedent, merits a close second look by the en banc court.

How to Use: Don’t concede a Fourth challenge because of Lamar Johnson: preserve. La Lucha continues.
                                               
For Further Reading: Whither the Judiciary (and FPD) as the shutdown staggers into uncharted territory? For an article that accurately describes the looming crisis, see a helpful NYT piece here




Image of Marty McFly of “Back to the Future” from https://memegenerator.net/instance/68739897/marty-mcfly-i-think-i-got-confused

Image of the Honorable J. Clifford Wallace from https://wallaceinnsd.org/our-founder/

Image of the Honorable Judge Paul Watford from https://livzey.com/corporate/portraiture/attachment/judgewatford_9960/


Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender N.D. Cal. Website at www.ndcalfpd.org
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Saturday, January 26, 2019 10:54:00 PM  

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