January 26, 2002
"It is exclusively the judicial
branch of government in any country that throws its nation into internal
upheaval and ultimate revolution." -Ron Branson, July,
"The germ of destruction of our
nation is in the power
of the judiciary.." . - Thomas Jefferson,
"Find out just what people will
submit to, and you have found the exact amount
of injustice and wrongdoing which will be imposed on them; and these will continue until they are resisted
with either words or blows, or with
both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by
the endurance of those whom they oppress." - Frederick Douglas, 1857
Yet ANOTHER Blow
(This time by the California Supreme
Did Chief Justice Ronald M. George, Justice Marvin Baxter, Justice Ming
W. Chin, and Justice Carlos R. Moreno (a) violate the U.S. Constitution, and (b)
if so, did they do it willfully?
Justice Joyce Kennard
[dissenting] said the ruling "does nothing to enhance our security
and does much to erode our 4th Amendment
State Court Backs Police on
split sharply in 4-3 ruling allowing car inspections for license,
By MAURA DOLAN, Times Legal Affairs Writer
FRANCISCO -- Police in California may search cars if a driver fails to
produce a license or registration regardless of whether the officer has a
warrant, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The high court, in a 4-3
vote, sided in favor of law enforcement despite sharply worded dissents
declaring that such searches violate the U.S. Constitution
Kennard, one of the dissenters, suggested the ruling may have been motivated by
security fears stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "As this opinion is
being written, our nation is undergoing a painful recovery from the devastating
physical and psychological effects of that day," Kennard wrote. She said the
ruling "does nothing to enhance our security and does much to erode our 4th
California courts previously have allowed police
making routine traffic stops to search for licenses and registrations in glove
compartments and under visors. The Supreme Court's decision Thursday approves
for the first time searches under the seats of cars and elsewhere when there is
no reason to believe a crime has been committed, lawyers in the case
Other courts have also given police more freedom in dealing with
motorists. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month reaffirmed that police have
extensive leeway in determining when to stop motorists and that they may rely on
innocent-looking actions as grounds for their suspicions.
The state high
court's majority, in an opinion written by Chief Justice
Ronald M. George,
reasoned that police can look for documents in a vehicle to determine the
identity of the driver and the owner of the vehicle. The decision upheld two
police searches in Orange and Solano counties in which drugs were found under
car seats and the drivers were prosecuted for possession.
warrantless searches for required registration and identification documentation
are permissible," George wrote, when the officers look for documents "in an area
where such documents reasonably may be be expected to be found." George
contended that allowing such searches would be less intrusive than arresting a
motorist for driving without a license. He also noted that it would not be
permissible to search a car trunk unless the officer had reason
the documentation was in there.
Voting with George were Justices Marvin
Baxter, Ming W. Chin and Justice Carlos R. Moreno, whom Gov. Gray Davis recently
appointed to fill a vacancy left by the death of Justice Stanley Mosk in June.
Mosk frequently sided with defendants in police search cases.
[Gov. Davis is now running for a second
The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled in a case
involving the kind of circumstances before the California court, although some
high courts in other states have upheld searches for vehicle
The three dissenting justices sharply accused the majority
of violating the U.S. Constitution by creating a "blanket" exception to warrant
requirements. Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar said the majority erred in saying
that the space beneath a driver's seat is a reasonable place to keep vehicle
registration. She also noted that driver's licenses are not usually kept under a
car's seat and contended the Constitution prohibits car searches for
"Nothing--not the Constitution, nor any statute nor the cases
cited by the majority--authorizes police to conduct a warrantless vehicle search
in an attempt to discover the license of a driver who asserts he or she does not
have it in the car," Werdegar wrote. If a driver fails to produce a license, the
officer can run the driver's name on a computer, ask the driver to submit a
thumbprint, accept another
form of identification or arrest the driver, she
said. "By what logic," she asked, "would a police officer believe that searching
a vehicle for a person's driver's license would be fruitful when the driver has
just informed the officer that he does not have a license in
Kennard, joined by Justice Janice Rogers Brown, discussed
"the horrendous events of Sept. 11" and asked whether anyone would ever be able
to forget them. Part of the recovery has been to create more security for
citizens but "an equally important part" should be a "rededication to the
principles upon which our nation was founded," Kennard wrote.
predicted the ruling "may well result in limitless searches throughout a vehicle
whenever a driver cannot produce the requisite
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