Following a traffic stop, officers searched Brandon Lance Lee’s car without a warrant and discovered 56 grams of cocaine, a firearm, and other items associated with selling narcotics. After Lee was charged with various drug and weapons offenses, he filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the warrantless vehicle search. The trial court granted Lee’s motion, rejecting the People’s contentions that the search was proper under the automobile exception as supported by probable cause or, alternatively, as an inventory search of a vehicle following an impound. Reviewing that order, we rely on the trial court’s express and implied factual findings, provided they are supported by substantial evidence, to independently determine whether the search was constitutional.
In evaluating the People’s reliance on the automobile exception to the warrant requirement, we weigh the totality of the circumstances to determine whether officers had probable cause to search Lee’s car. Our analysis, like that of the trial court, does not overlook the small, permissible amount of marijuana found in Lee’s pocket. But following the legalization of marijuana in 2016, California law now expressly provides that legal cannabis and related products “are not contraband” and their possession and/or use “shall not constitute the basis for detention, search, or arrest.” (Health & Saf. Code, § 11362.1, subd. (c).) As a result, the trial court properly concluded that Lee’s possession of a small amount of marijuana was of little relevance in assessing probable cause. Because the other factors relied on by the People were also of minimal significance, we conclude that even considering the totality of circumstances known to the officer there did not exist “ ‘ “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found.” ’ ” (Alabama v. White (1990) 496 U.S. 325, 330, 110 S.Ct. 2412, 110 L.Ed.2d 301 (Alabama).)
We likewise find no error in the trial court’s conclusion that the search was not valid as an inventory search. The search here served no community caretaking function. And based on the manner in which the search was conducted and the statements of the officer to Lee and his passenger, the trial *857 court reasonably found that the primary purpose of the search was not to inventory the contents of Lee’s car, but rather to investigate Lee for possible criminal behavior.
We therefore affirm the order granting Lee’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the unlawful search of his car.
People v. Lee, 40 Cal. App. 5th 853, 856–57, 253 Cal. Rptr. 3d 512, 515 (2019)
Vehicular Searches: https://youtu.be/17btYF5d5hM
Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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