Police cannot search car’s locked glove box during parole search of backseat passenger

Claypool v. Superior Court of Sacramento County (Cal. Ct. App., Dec. 6, 2022, No. C096620) 2022 WL 17422679, at *1

Summary:  Claypool was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, unlawful possession of ammunition by a felon, unauthorized alteration of a firearm, and carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle, along with an enhancement for a prior strike pursuant to the three strikes law. The evidence was found in a locked glove box in Claypool’s car during a parole search of a back seat passenger. Claypool, who was both the driver and owner of the car, was neither on searchable probation nor parole at the time. Police used a key to open the glove box and found a gun containing ammunition.

Claypool brought a petition for writ of mandate or prohibition to challenge the denial of a motion to suppress evidence and dismiss the charges.

The People argue the parole search of the back seat passenger permissibly extended to the locked glove box because officers could reasonably expect the parolee could have secreted contraband there after he became aware of the police. Without additional evidence, the Court found the facts do not support such an attenuated inference. The parolee was not independently capable of accessing the glove box. Nor did police observe anything suggesting the occupants of the car were maneuvering to get the gun from the back seat passenger into the glove box and lock it. The Court issue a peremptory writ of mandate and directed the superior court to grant petitioner’s motion.

Parole search of a car based on passenger’s status

A parole search of a car based on a passenger’s status as a parolee requires a nexus between the area or item searched and the parolee. Relevant factors include the nature of the area or item, how close and accessible it is to the parolee, the privacy interests at stake, and the government’s interest in the search. (Schmitz, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 923.) The government interest at stake is“substantial,” including that parolees are more likely to commit offenses and pose safety concerns, the parolees’ need for effective supervision, and parolees’ incentive to conceal criminal activities by quickly disposing of evidence. But a permissible search based on a passenger’s parole status is limited to “those areas of the passenger compartment where the officer reasonably expects that the parolee could have stowed personal belongings or discarded items when aware of police activity.” (Id. at p. 926.)

The Schmitz court addressed the issue here — the search of “closed compartments of the car like the glove box, center console, or trunk.” (Schmitz, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 926, fn. 16.) The court noted these were not at issue and the court therefore expressed “no opinion” of whether a search of “such closed-off areas could be based solely on a passenger’s parole status.”But the court emphasized: “The reasonableness of such a search must necessarily take into account all the attendant circumstances, including the driver’s legitimate expectation of privacy in those closed compartments, the passenger’s proximity to them, and whether they were locked or otherwise secured.”

The state Supreme Court upheld a vehicle search where a male passenger in the front seat was on parole.

Analysis of the search here and Claypool’s privacy interests

Here, it does not appear objectively reasonable to believe the back seat passenger might have secreted a gun in the glove box after he saw police. To do so would almost certainly require the engagement and assistance of both Claypool, who had the keys, and the front seat passenger seat. In upholding the search in Schmitz, the Supreme Court looked to whether the parolee himself was able to reach back and secrete contraband in the items, given his proximity, without other occupants’ assistance. Here, we have a very different situation. Given that the parolee Olivia could not himself have acted without assistance, it would only be reasonable to believe he secured contraband in the glove box if the police had observed some indication of it. This is also consistent with the focus of the parole search being on Olivia rather than the other occupants. In  upholding the search in Schmitz, the Supreme Court emphasized, as factors relevant to parole searches and of particular concern in evaluating searches of closed containers, the other occupants’ privacy interests based on who likely had possession of the items in the car. Petitioner’s privacy interests are strong, as he was both the owner of the car and the person who retained possession of the key to the glove box.

There is no evidence suggesting the type of movements among the three occupants consistent with secreting the gun into the glove box. Such movements would risk being easily observed by police, who were likely watching the occupants nearly the entire time, if not always closely. A search limited to those areas accessible to Olivia still serves the important interests identified by the  state Supreme Court in adequately supervising parolees.

Moreover, the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing, including the questions posed to the police and the appearance of the car in the video footage, indicate the car had a standard ignition and lacked a keyless ignition. The rulings by the magistrate and respondent court, as well as the briefing by the parties in this court, similarly assume the car did not have a keyless ignition. The key the police used to open the glove box was on the same keychain as the ignition key, and the police testimony suggests there was only one ignition key. It therefore appears improbable the occupants could have accessed the glove box while the car was moving.


A peremptory writ of mandate was issued directing the trial court to: (1) vacate its order denying petitioner’s Penal Code sections 995 and 1538.5, subdivision (i) motion; and (2) to issue a new order that grants the motion.

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