California Penal Code Section 1538.5 - Interpretation

In People v. Williams (1999) 20 Cal.4th 119, the California Supreme Court examined the specificity with which a defendant must make a motion to suppress evidence pursuant to Penal Code section 1538.5. "When the basis of a motion to suppress is a warrantless search or seizure, the requisite specificity is generally satisfied, in the first instance, if defendants simply assert the absence of a warrant and make a prima facie showing to support that assertion." (Id. at p. 130.) Once the defendant meets the foregoing specificity requirement, "the prosecution ... has the burden of proving some justification for the warrantless search or seizure ...." (Id. at p. 136.) But, the court stated further, "once the prosecution has offered a justification for a warrantless search or seizure, defendants must present any arguments as to why that justification is inadequate. Otherwise, defendants would not meet their burden under section 1538.5 of specifying why the search or seizure without a warrant was 'unreasonable.' This specificity requirement does not place the burden of proof on defendants.... The burden of raising an issue is distinct from the burden of proof. The prosecution retains the burden of proving that the warrantless search or seizure was reasonable under the circumstances. But, if defendants detect a critical gap in the prosecution's proof or a flaw in its legal analysis, they must object on that basis to admission of the evidence or risk forfeiting the issue on appeal." (Williams, supra, 20 Cal.4th at p. 130.) "Defendants cannot ... lay a trap for the prosecution by remaining completely silent until the appeal about issues the prosecution may have overlooked." (Id. at p. 131.) "Defendants who do not give the prosecution sufficient notice of the inadequacies in the prosecution's proposed justification for a warrantless search or seizure cannot raise the issue on appeal." (Id. at p. 136.) The Supreme Court explained that the scope of appellate review of a motion to suppress is limited to the issues raised at trial. "'This is an elemental matter of fairness in giving each of the parties an opportunity adequately to litigate the facts and inferences relating to the adverse party's contentions.'" (Ibid.) The Williams court held the defendant did not waive the issue regarding a law enforcement policy of opening closed containers during an inventory search because the defendant had challenged the existence of such a policy and cited similar caselaw to the trial court. ( Id. at p. 137.) In People v. Williams (1999) the California Supreme Court held appellate review of the denial of a suppression motion, "'must be limited to those issues raised during argument. . . .'" ( Id. at p. 136.) The court was emphatic that a defendant must "specify the precise grounds for a motion to suppress" and stated, "defendants who challenge some specific aspect of a search or seizure other than the lack of the warrant must specify the nature of that challenge at the outset. . . . The determinative inquiry in all cases is whether the party opposing the motion had fair notice of the moving party's argument and fair opportunity to present responsive evidence." ( Id. at p. 135.) The court concluded any issue not specifically raised in the trial court cannot be argued on appeal.