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People v. Watkins

February 9, 2009

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
STEPHON CORTNEY WATKINS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from judgment of the Superior Court of Sacramento County, James P. Henke, Judge Sitting as a Committing Magistrate, and Michael Savage, Judge. Affirmed. (Super. Ct. No. 07F01099).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Raye, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

After the court denied defendant Stephon Cortney Watkins's motion to suppress evidence obtained following a stop and search of his car (Pen. Code, § 1538.5) and his subsequent motion to dismiss the information (Pen. Code, § 995), a jury convicted him of possessing cocaine base for sale (count one; Health & Saf. Code, § 11351.5) and transporting cocaine base (count two; Health & Saf. Code, § 11352, subd. (a)). Sentenced to five years' probation, including 180 days in county jail, defendant contends his motion to suppress evidence should have been granted because the vehicle stop and the subsequent search were illegal. We shall affirm.

BACKGROUND

Because defendant does not challenge the verdict, we recount only the evidence relevant to the search and seizure.

The Penal Code Section 1538.5 Motion

At the preliminary hearing, Elk Grove Police Officer Chris Reese testified as follows:

Around 2:30 a.m. on February 1, 2007, driving westbound on Geneva Pointe Drive toward East Stockton Boulevard, Officer Reese observed a blue Buick approaching the stop sign at the intersection. When it stopped, Officer Reese saw that the driver's side "stop lamp," or brake light, was not operating. He pulled the Buick over.

Defendant falsely identified himself to the officer as Marques Watkins (actually defendant's brother). Defendant said he was on probation but did not say whether it included a search condition. He also said he did not have a driver's license with him. A record check showed that Marques Watkins's license was suspended or revoked. After finding that defendant was unarmed, Officer Reese detained him, unhandcuffed, in the back of the patrol car.

Although the record check had not shown that Marques Watkins was on probation, Officer Reese, relying on defendant's statement, conducted a "probation search" of defendant's car. A torn baggie and an off-white substance found under the driver's seat field-tested positive for cocaine base. Officer Reese arrested defendant.

After his arrest, defendant gave his true name. Checking that name, Officer Reese found that defendant was on searchable probation.

A defense investigator testified that five days after the arrest, he photographed defendant's impounded car (in daylight, with the car in park). The photographs, admitted in evidence, showed all brake lights working; in fact, the driver's side had more lights illuminated than the passenger's side.

Defendant did not testify.

Defense counsel argued that (1) the stop was illegal because the photographs proved Officer Reese could not have seen any defect in the brake light and (2) the search was not a valid probation search because the officer did not know when ...


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