Outstanding Warrant Exception to Exclusionary Rule Applied to Officer’s Illegal Detention of Defendant

People v. Kasrawi (Cal. Ct. App., June 16, 2021, No. D077139) 2021 WL 2451095

Summary: Kasrawi was stopped and ultimately arrested by a police officer who acted on no more than a hunch. The officer detained  Kasrawi after watching him  cross the street to his legally parked car. The officer later learned that Kasrawi had an outstanding arrest warrant. Supreme Court precedent compels the conclusion that despite the Fourth Amendment violation, the evidence need not be suppressed.

This case is an exception to the exclusionary rule that applies where a law enforcement officer discovers the defendant’s outstanding warrant after an illegal stop but before a search yields evidence of a crime. Under these limited circumstances, discovery of the warrant  attenuates the taint of the original detention.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of Kasrawi’s suppression motion.

Facts:San Diego Police Officer John Pardue was driving his  patrol route in Del Mar when he saw Kasrawi cross a residential street and begin to enter his Toyota Prius. Pardue rarely saw people during his nighttime patrol and knew of two car burglaries in the area in the past week and did not recognize that particular Prius. In addition to his patrol car headlights, which had already provided enough illumination for Pardue to see Kasrawi crossing the street, Pardue flipped on his spotlight and pulled up behind and to the side of the Prius, flooding Kasrawi with a bright light.

Kasrawi stopped getting into his car and turned to face Pardue, who immediately exited his patrol car, walked around to the front, and stopped a few feet away as he asked Kasrawi where he was coming from. Kasrawi responded that he was resting on a drive down from Los Angeles—an answer Pardue suspected that Kasrawi was actually casing vehicles. He directed Kasrawi to take a seat on the front bumper of the patrol car and informed him that he was being detained as he secured handcuffs to his wrists.

After learning that Kasrawi had a warrant, Pardue placed him under arrest. A subsequent search incident to arrest yielded stolen items from nearby cars in Kasrawi’s pockets and his Prius.

Following trial, Kasrawi was convicted of (count 1) vehicle tampering (Pen. Code, § 459),2 (count 3) grand theft of personal property (§ 487, subd. (a)), (count 5) possession of a controlled substance (Health & Saf. Code, § 11377, subd. (a)), (count 6) obtaining personal identifying information with intent to defraud (§ 530.5, subd. (c)(1)), and (counts 7 and 8) two counts of burglary, one in the first degree (§§ 459 and 460, subd. (a)).

The discovery of his outstanding arrest warrant attenuated any taint of the illegal detention

Kasrawi moved to suppress the evidence on the basis that Pardue illegally detained him, making the fruits of the detention inadmissible. (§ 1538.5.) At the suppression hearing, defense counsel argued that Pardue detained Kasrawi immediately upon confronting him, before Pardue had any reasonable basis to believe Kasrawi might be involved in illegal activity. Counsel gave particular weight to Pardue’s use of his spotlight.

After surveying similar cases and considering the manner in which Pardue confronted Kasrawi—including his use of the spotlight, the position of his car, how quickly he got out and walked to Kasrawi, and the immediate, direct question he posed, the court  concluded that Kasrawi was detained before he responded to Pardue’s inquiry. A reasonable person would not feel free to terminate such an encounter with law enforcement. Furthermore, the detention was unlawful because the factors known to Pardue at that point gave rise to no more than a mere hunch that Kasrawi might be involved in criminal activity. However, the court affirmed the denial of Kasrawi’s motion to suppress  limited exception to the exclusionary rule that applies when an officer’s illegal stop is followed by their discovery of an outstanding warrant, as pronounced in both People v. Brendlin (2008) 45 Cal.4th 262, 85 Cal.Rptr.3d 496, 195 P.3d 1074 (Brendlin) and Utah v. Strieff (2016) ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 2056, 2059, 195 L.Ed.2d 400 (Strieff).

When was Kasrawi detained?

The Fourth Amendment and California’s Constitution protect the public from unreasonable searches and seizures. (U.S. Const., 4th Amend.; Cal. Const., art. I, § 13.) This protection extends to “brief investigatory stops” (In re Edgerrin J. (2020) 57 Cal.App.5th 752, 759, 271 Cal.Rptr.3d 610) because “it is the right of every person to enjoy the use of public streets, buildings, parks, and other conveniences without unwarranted interference or harassment by agents of the law.” (In re Tony C. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 888, 892, 148 Cal.Rptr. 366, 582 P.2d 957 (Tony C.).)

Generally, police contact with individuals in public places will fall into one of three categories: (1) a consensual encounter, which involves “no restraint on the person’s liberty” and thus “need[s] no objective justification,” (2) a detention, which “involves a seizure of the individual for a limited duration and for limited purposes” and is constitutional only when facts known to the officer give rise to a reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in some illegal activity, and (3) an arrest, which must be justified by probable cause. (People v. Bailey (1985) 176 Cal.App.3d 402, 405, 222 Cal.Rptr. 235, citing Florida v. Royer (1983) 460 U.S. 491, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 75 L.Ed.2d 229.).

Use of the spotlight is significant.

As in Garry, supra, 156 Cal.App.4th 1100, 67 Cal.Rptr.3d 849, Pardue “bathed” Kasrawi in light. Additionally, there are at least four other factors that indicate Kasrawi was already detained before Pardue heard his explanation for being in the neighborhood. These include: (1) the proximity of Pardue’s marked police vehicle, which he parked within a few feet of Kasrawi’s Prius, (2) Pardue’s immediate exit from his vehicle, followed by (3) his immediate advance toward Kasrawi, which left nothing but a socially acceptable distance for strangers between them, and (4) his immediate, pointed question, which demanded an answer.

While the spotlight alone may not have been enough, the authoritative “ ‘manner [and] mode’ ” of Pardue’s approach and his assertion of total control removed any ambiguity as to whether Kasrawi could leave. (Garry, supra, 156 Cal.App.4th at p. 1112, 67 Cal.Rptr.3d 849.) A reasonable person would likely respond with submission, as Kasrawi in fact did. The court concluded Kasrawi was detained at the outset—when Pardue flooded him with his spotlight, parked his marked police vehicle close to Kasrawi’s car, and immediately approached him while asking a pointed question. A reasonable person would not feel free to terminate that encounter with an officer.

Was the detention legal?

Kasrawi was detained when he was first contacted and the detention would only be legal if Officer Pardue was aware of “specific and articulable facts” causing him to believe that “some activity relating to crime has taken place or is occurring or about to occur,” and that Kasrawi was “involved in that activity.” (Tony C., supra, 21 Cal.3d at p. 892, 148 Cal.Rptr. 366, 582 P.2d 957; see also Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1, 30, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 [detention proper if officer observes “unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot”].) All that can be said of Kasrawi’s  conduct is that he crossed a residential street at a time when most people in the neighborhood were still asleep. The circumstances were thus “devoid of indicia of his involvement in criminal activity” (Roth, supra, 219 Cal.App.3d at p. 215, 268 Cal.Rptr. 66), and fall significantly short of the “specific and articulable facts” required to support a detention. (Tony C., supra, 21 Cal.3d at p. 892, 148 Cal.Rptr. 366, 582 P.2d 957.)

Were the results of the subsequent search tainted by the illegal detention?

An illegal detention that uncovers evidence is generally subject to the exclusionary rule, which dictates the unlawfully obtained evidence be suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” (Wong Sun v. United States (1963) 371 U.S. 471, 488, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441; People v. Krohn (2007) 149 Cal.App.4th 1294, 1299, 58 Cal.Rptr.3d 60.) Exceptions to the exclusionary rule apply “when the costs of exclusion outweigh its deterrent benefits.” (Strieff, supra, 136 S.Ct. at p. 2059.) One such exception is the intervening discovery of “a valid, pre-existing, and untainted arrest warrant.” (Id. at p. 2061.) When this kind of discovery is made, and there are no countervailing concerns about flagrant police misconduct, “the link between the unconstitutional conduct and the discovery of the evidence is too attenuated to justify suppression.” (Id. at p. 2059.) That was the case here, because Pardue’s quick discovery of Kasrawi’s outstanding warrant preceded the search incident to his arrest and cured the taint of the unlawful detention.

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