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LU Ref# CAI00019
February 5, 2022
Author Ref. No: Vol. 27 No. 2
LU Ref# CAI00019
February 5, 2022
Author Ref. No:   Vol. 27 No. 2

Robert Phillips
Deputy District Attorney (Retired)

“Sitting by my wife, I said: ‘I love you.’ She replied: ‘Is that you or the wine speaking?’ I answered: ‘It’s me, . . . talking to the wine.’”
Illegal Detentions and Observations
COURT CASE REFERENCE: People v. Cuadra (Nov. 5, 2021) 71 Cal.App.5th 348

Observations made by a law enforcement officer, indicating that a person may be armed, when those observations occur during an illegal detention, are illegal in themselves.  A firearm found as a result of an illegal observation is to be suppressed as a product of that illegal observation.
In early June, 2020, Los Angeles and other surrounding cities had been experiencing wide-spread looting and rioting following a “Black Lives Matter” protest.  As noted in the dissenting opinion, “there was great unrest throughout (Los Angeles) county. . . . National Guard troops and police officers guarded the barricaded steps of Los Angeles City Hall and tried to restore order in Santa Monica and Long Beach. For two days, looters spent hours vandalizing and breaking into stores, stealing items and setting fires in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Long Beach. Hundreds were arrested on suspicion of burglary, looting, vandalism, failure to disperse, and firearms and curfew violations. Five Los Angeles Police Department officers were injured, with two of them hospitalized.”  As a result, a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew had been imposed. At 2:15 a.m. on June 3, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Xavier Zeas and his partner—while patrolling the City of Commerce area in a marked patrol car—observed defendant Oscar Cuadra standing next to a parked car in a motel parking lot.  The parking lot was no more than a narrow strip of asphalt, with five parking stalls, sandwiched in between the motel and a fence fronting on Triggs Ave.  Acknowledging in later testimony that the curfew did not apply to private property, Deputy Zeas drove up to defendant anyway and, while still sitting in his patrol car, asked him if he was aware of the curfew.  Defendant responded that he was not.  Deputy Zeas then asked defendant if he was on parole or probation.  Defendant told the deputy that he was in fact on probation.  Deciding (subjectively) at this point to detain defendant, Deputy Zeas and his partner exited their patrol car and asked defendant to walk over to the hood of their car.  Defendant reacted to this request by stepping backwards while raising both hands and asking the officers why they were “attempting to detain” him when he had done nothing wrong.  As defendant raised his hands, Deputy Zeas saw a “bulge” in defendant’s right front pants pocket. The deputy described the bulge as “pretty big” and consistent with the shape of a firearm. Before Deputy Zeas could react to what he had just observed, defendant “spontaneously” told the deputies that he had a gun.  Defendant was ordered to the ground.  A patdown search resulted in the recovery of a loaded .38 caliber revolver from defendant’s front pants pocket.  Defendant was charged in state court with the illegal possession of a firearm by a felon (per P.C. § 29800(a)(1)).  His subsequent motion to suppress the firearm as the product of an illegal detention was denied.  After pleading “no contest,” defendant appealed.