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LU Ref# CAI00043
March 14, 2024
Author Ref. No: Vol. 29 No. 3
LU Ref# CAI00043
March 14, 2024
Author Ref. No:   Vol. 29 No. 3

Robert Phillips
Deputy District Attorney (Retired)

“I love bacon. Sometimes I eat it twice a day. Helps take my mind off the terrible chest pains I get.”
Detentions and Consent: When Do Legal Searches Turn Illegal, and Potential Evidence Suppressed? 
COURT CASE REFERENCE: People v. Paul (Feb. 14, 2024), Cal.App.5th, [2024 Cal. App. LEXIS 91]

A “show of authority” by law enforcement officers may convert an intended consensual encounter into a detention. If such a detention is not accompanied by evidence that the detainee is engaged in criminal conduct, then the detention is illegal, requiring the suppression of any resulting evidence. The discovery during an unlawful detention that a detainee is on parole makes such a discovery, and the results of a parole search, subject to suppression. 
Defendant Jeremiah Paul was observed by two Los Angeles Police Department officers sitting in his Toyota Prius around 9 p.m. on March 7, 2020, in a residential area. The officers first noticed Paul because he was sitting there with his vehicle’s lights on. As the officers drove up next to Paul’s car, one of the officers “illuminated the Prius with his flashlight.” In response, Paul sunk lower in his seat as if “conceal[ing] himself from [the officers’] view,” an action Paul later denied, and the significance of, the court never discussed. One of the officers patrolled this area regularly and knew that a parolee lived across the street from where the Prius was parked. The driving officer then backed up the patrol car and stopped in the middle of the street with his headlights pointing straight down the road, putting the patrol car a vehicle length behind Paul’s car, thus allowing room for him to drive away should he choose to do so.   That officer then got out of the patrol vehicle and walked to the driver’s side of the Prius while illuminating that side of the car with his flashlight. The second officer did the same on the passenger’s side. The driver’s side window was rolled up, but the door was partially open. The officer, who was standing two to three feet from the door, opened it further and spoke to Paul, asking him innocuous questions such as, “How ya doin’, man?” During a short back-and-forth between the two establishing that they were both doing “all right” and “good,” the officer asked Paul if he lived at that location, to which defendant said that he did. A few more seconds into this unenlightening, yet low-key, conversation, it culminated with the officer asking: “Any probation or parole?” Paul responded that he was on parole.  The officers therefore conducted a parole search of the car, recovering an illegal firearm. Paul was arrested and charged in state court with possessing a firearm with a prior violent conviction (Pen. Code § 29900(a)(1)). After his motion to suppress the firearm was denied, he pleaded “no contest” and appealed.