California Law Concerning Vehicle Stops and Landmark Cases

"In ruling on a motion to suppress, the trial court finds the historical facts, then determines whether the applicable rule of law has been violated." (People v. Hernandez (2008) 45 Cal.4th 295, 298 (Hernandez).) When we review the trial court's resolution of the motion to suppress, we "defer to the trial court's factual findings, express or implied, where supported by substantial evidence." (People v. Glaser (1995) 11 Cal.4th 354, 362.) However, we exercise our independent judgment in determining whether the search or seizure was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. (Glaser, at p. 362.) The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. (U.S. Const., 4th Amend.; Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1, 20.) "A detention is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment when the detaining officer can point to specific articulable facts that, considered in light of the totality of the circumstances, provide some objective manifestation that the person detained may be involved in criminal activity." (People v. Souza (1994) 9 Cal.4th 224, 231 36 Cal. Rptr. 2d 569, 885 P.2d 982.) Traffic stops are investigatory detentions for which the officer must be able to articulate specific facts justifying the suspicion that a law is being violated. (People v. Wells (2006) 38 Cal.4th 1078, 1082-1083.) An officer may make an investigatory stop if there is a reasonable suspicion that vehicle registration laws have been violated. (See Hernandez, supra, 45 Cal.4th at pp. 300-301; People v. Saunders (2006) 38 Cal.4th 1129, 1136 (Saunders).) "When two license plates are issued by the department for use upon a vehicle, they shall be attached to the vehicle for which they were issued, one in the front and the other in the rear." (Veh. Code, 5200, subd. (a).) A vehicle is being operated legally despite missing license plates if a valid temporary operating permit is correctly displayed. (Veh. Code, 4156, 5202.) The Vehicle Code does not explicitly provide for the placement of the temporary operating permit; however, it generally allows drivers to affix signs, stickers, and other materials in specified parts of the windshield or rear window. (Veh. Code, 26708, subd. (b)(3).) The question for us is not whether the vehicle was in full compliance with the law at the time of the stop, but whether the officer had articulable suspicion that it was not. (Saunders, supra, 38 Cal.4th at p. 1136.) In Saunders, a case decided before Hernandez and distinguished by the Hernandez court, an officer stopped a vehicle that displayed a rear license plate with an expired registration tag and a temporary operating permit but no front license plate. (Saunders, supra, 38 Cal.4th at p. 1132.) In that circumstance, the California Supreme Court held that the officer had articulable suspicion that the defendant was violating the law because the law generally requires a front license plate (Veh. Code, 5200, subd. (a)) and "the lack of a front license plate has long been recognized as a legitimate basis for a traffic stop." (Saunders, supra, 38 Cal.4th at p. 1136; see also Hernandez, supra, 45 Cal.4th at p. 300 distinguishing Saunders on its facts.) "Under the automobile exception, police who have probable cause to believe a lawfully stopped vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity or contraband may conduct a warrantless search of any area of the vehicle in which the evidence might be found. Such a search 'is not unreasonable if based on facts that would justify the issuance of a warrant, even though a warrant has not actually been obtained.' . . . 'If probable cause justifies the search of a lawfully stopped vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search.'" (People v. Evans (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 735, 753.) "Probable cause to search thus exists when the 'known facts and circumstances are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable prudence in the belief that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found . . . .'" (Ibid.) In other words, "probable cause to search is 'a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place . . . .'" (People v. Hunter (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 371, 378.)A police detention occurs "when an officer intentionally applies hands-on, physical restraint to a suspect or initiates a show of authority to which a reasonable innocent person would feel compelled to submit , and to which the suspect actually does submit for reasons that are solely related to the official show of authority." (People v. Cartwright (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 1362, 1367, citing, inter alia, California v. Hodari D. (1991) 499 U.S. 621, Brower v. Inyo County (1989) 489 U.S. 593 & Florida v. Bostick (1991) 501 U.S. 429 (Bostick).) The test for the existence of a show of authority is an objective one, and thus, "neither the officer's uncommunicated state of mind nor the subjective belief of the individual citizen is relevant to the determination of whether a police contact is a detention . . . ." (In re Christopher B. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 455, 460.) The focus of the inquiry is whether, taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable innocent person that he was free to disregard the police presence and go about his business. (Bostick, at p. 437; Cartwright, at p. 1364.) Since voter approval of Proposition 8 in June 1982, federal constitutional standards, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, have governed review of issues related to the suppression of evidence seized by the police in California. (People v. Camacho (2000) 23 Cal.4th 824, 830.) Lower federal court decisions in this area are not binding on California state courts. (Id. at p. 830, fn. 1.) If there is no conflict between state and federal law, state law governs. (In re Lance W. (1985) 37 Cal.3d 873, 886-888.) Federal Fourth Amendment jurisprudence recognizes three distinct categories of police interaction with individuals, each entailing different constitutional implications: "Police contacts with individuals may be placed into three broad categories ranging from the least to the most intrusive: consensual encounters that result in no restraint of liberty whatsoever; detentions, which are seizures of an individual that are strictly limited in duration, scope, and purpose; and formal arrests or comparable restraints on an individual's liberty. . . . Consensual encounters do not trigger Fourth Amendment scrutiny. Unlike detentions, they require no articulable suspicion that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime. " (In re Manuel G. (1997) 16 Cal.4th 805, 821.) Police officers may lawfully detain individuals briefly as long as the detention is reasonable and does not amount to an arrest. (People v. Coulombe (2000) 86 Cal.App.4th 52, 56.) Traditionally there have been different categories of police interactions with individuals, each of which evoked a separate analysis regarding the degree of restraint and extent to which a person was detained. (People v. Verin (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 551, 557.) Unlike consensual encounters and arrest, lawful police detentions must be strictly limited in duration, scope and purpose. (Id. at p. 555.) A lawful detention must be reasonable, brief, and within the scope and purpose of lawful police duties. An officer may temporarily detain a person for the purpose of further investigation if the officer can identify specific and articulable facts warranting a reasonable suspicion the individual is involved in criminal activity. (United States v. Sokolow (1989) 490 U.S. 1, 7; Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1, 30 (Terry); People v. Wells (2006) 38 Cal.4th 1078, 1083 (Wells).) We examine the "totality of the circumstances" in assessing whether a "particularized and objective basis" supports the detention. (United States v. Cortez (1981) 449 U.S. 411, 412, 417; see People v. Souza (1994) 9 Cal.4th 224, 230-231.) In so doing, we avoid a "divide and conquer approach" that considers factors in isolation and blanket rules that categorically assign no weight to certain kinds of observations. (United States v. Arvizu (2002) 534 U.S. 266, 273-278.) Consideration of the totality of the circumstance permits "officers to draw on their own experience and specialized training to make inferences from and deductions about the cumulative information available to them that 'might well elude an untrained person.' " (Id. at p. 273.) To comport with the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, the police may not conduct a traffic stop unless there is a reasonable suspicion that the driver has violated the Vehicle Code or some other law. (People v. Durazo (2004) 124 Cal.App.4th 728, 734-735.) Reasonable suspicion requires "'a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped' of breaking the law." (Heien v. North Carolina (2014) (Heien).) The required reasonable suspicion can be based on an "officer's mistaken factual belief, held reasonably and in good faith . . . ." (People v. White (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 636, 644.) As explained in Heien, "'The ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is "reasonableness."'. . . To be reasonable is not to be perfect, and so the Fourth Amendment allows for some mistakes on the part of government officials, giving them 'fair leeway for enforcing the law in the community's protection.' We have recognized that searches and seizures based on mistakes of fact can be reasonable." (Heien, supra, 135 S.Ct. at p. 536.) However, the "Fourth Amendment tolerates only reasonable mistakes, and those mistakes-whether of fact or of law-must be objectively reasonable." (Heien, supra, 135 S.Ct. at p. 539.) The relevant inquiry is "whether the officer's conduct under the circumstances known to him was objectively reasonable. . . . . . . The People '"must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion. . . . And in making that assessment it is imperative that the facts be judged against an objective standard; would the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or the search 'warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief' that the action taken was appropriate?"'" (People v. Glick (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 796, 801.)