We use both our own and third-party cookies for statistical purposes and to improve our services. If you continue to browse, we consider that you accept the use of these.
  • Celebrating 20 Years of Training Excellence 2004-2024

Article #2 – Passengers In Car Searches

The legal update page hit this topic a short time ago. Rulings are coming down from the appellate courts providing more and more protection for passengers in cars. As a result, I think that an overview of each of the past few rulings is in order to try and keep you up to date.

Passenger’s Purse

On July 15, an appellate court in People v. Baker, 2008 DJDAR 10878, addressed the issue of a passenger riding in a parolee’s car. There, the officer made a routine car stop of a male driver who was speeding. There was no indication of any other criminal activity. The officer learned the driver was on parole and decided to search the car. Prior to the parole search, the female passenger got out of the car, leaving her purse in the passenger compartment of the car.

During the search of the car, the officer also searched the purse of the female passenger which was located at her feet. The female’s ID was in the purse and she admitted ownership. Also in the purse was methamphetamine. The defendant female filed a motion to suppress the methamphetamine.

The Baker court ruled that there were three possible bases for the search:
1. The automobile exception. Warrantless searches of cars are legal if there is probable cause. The court held that here there was no probable cause as there was no indication of criminal activity.
2. Search incident to lawful arrest. A lawful custodial arrest of a vehicle occupant allows officers to search a passenger compartment and any containers contemporaneous to the arrest. Here, neither of the people in the car was arrested.
3. Consent searches. Here there was lawful consent, by the driver, as a condition of his parole. It is well settled that if the parolee and the passenger had joint ownership or control of the purse the search would be valid. There was no information, however, that those facts existed. Therefore, the court held that consent was not a valid basis for the search.

Ultimately, the Baker court held that even when conducting a parole search, with no indication that the female passenger has done anything wrong, the officer may not search the passenger’s bag. The court held that although the parolee/driver consented in advance to searches of his person, home and car, people traveling with him do not give up their right to privacy.

Be aware of another appellate court decision from 2007. In People v. Cantor 149 Cal.App.4th 961, the court held that even when a driver consents to a search, the officer may not be able to unscrew or pry open containers as part of the search.
With the United States Supreme court ruling that passengers are detained in car stops, you must keep the rights of the passengers in a car stop in mind during that stop.

Chuck Gillingham is a veteran prosecutor and regular instructor for the California District Attorney’s Association and the Federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Chuck also teaches Multidisciplinary Child Interviewing and Child Exploitation Investigation for Third Degree Communications, Inc.

If you wish to print and share this Legal Update Training Bulletin with your colleagues, credit must be given to Third Degree Communications, Inc. and the Author.

  • Effective teaching teams! The presentation of the material was consistently interesting, and intelligent without being too intellectualized.

    —Michele Keller, Deputy Probation Officer, County of Alameda
  • This training provided the useful tools necessary for assessing the veracity of a suspected child abuser, which goes a long way in helping to protect children.

    —Sunny Burgan, MSSW, LCSW, Social Work Supervisor, Santa Clara County DFCS
  • This training by far has been the most informative and most effective I've attended. The instructors engaged the students in a manner that made me want to speak my opinion, ask questions, and participate.

    —Julio Ibarra, Merced County Sheriff’s Office
  • It not often that you go to a training that you really, really want to pay attention to. Because of the high quality information and style of presentation, I knew that if I looked away I was going to miss out.

    —Quinten Graves, Oregon State Police
  • Your training has made the greatest and most direct impact on my assignment of any training class that I've taken.

    —Ken Gelskey, National City Police Department
  • This was, by far, one of the most useful training classes I've attended since becoming an investigator.

    —Steven Aiello, Antioch Police Department
  • The information presented was highly relevant to my job and was presented in a manner that was organized and very easy to digest.

    —Michael McGarvey, California State Prison, San Quentin
  • Incredible training with amazing real world instruction. I have been taking law enforcement classes for over 30 years and by far this is the best presented and most useful.

    —Det. Brian Dale, Portland Police Bureau
  • I will continue to use and pass on this information because I really believe in the instructors and their approach.

    —Kimberly Meyer, Washoe County Sheriff's Department
  • This was, by far and away the best training I have received in 15 plus years of Law Enforcement. The instructors are experienced, engaging, articulate, and very entertaining. I will be recommending this training to multiple agencies.

    —Mark Paynter, Oregon DOC
  • Your training gave me the confidence and tools to interview the suspect for over 5 hours and to bring a closure to the case.

    —Daniel Phelan, San Jose Police Department
  • Instructional style is engaging and highly effective.

    —George Laing, Fire Prevention Captain, Investigator
  • I highly recommend this training for any Probation staff who have the necessity to interview/interrogate individuals for investigation purposes.

    —R. Bret Fidler, Santa Clara County Probation Department