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The People v. George Wesley Mcdonald

February 2, 2011


Super. Ct. No. 09F01546 Defendant George Wesley McDonald, Jr., pled no contest to possession of marijuana for sale. The trial court placed defendant on formal probation for five years and imposed a condition of 90 days in jail. On appeal defendant argues the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress evidence seized during the warrantless search of his home. We disagree and affirm the judgment.

P. v. McDonald CA3


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.




On February 25, 2009, Detective Joseph Miller was assigned to a narcotics suppression unit with the Sacramento County Sheriff. Detective Miller was acting as an undercover officer for a buy-bust operation. About 1:00 p.m., Detective Miller saw defendant leave unit one of the fourplex located at 5750 Garfield Avenue. Detective Miller approached defendant and asked if he had any "bud," meaning marijuana. Defendant responded by asking Detective Miller how much he needed. After Detective Miller said a "dub" (meaning about $20 worth), defendant told him to wait there. Defendant walked back toward the front of the units in the general area where Detective Miller saw him leave the fourplex. Detective Miller did not see where defendant went and thus did not know if he reentered unit one. Defendant returned after about one minute and asked Detective Miller to step into the fourplex's common garage. There, Detective Miller traded a prerecorded $20 bill for two baggies containing a combined weight of 0.90 grams of marijuana. Detective Miller then left the area, alerted his fellow officers that he had completed a narcotics transaction, and provided them with defendant's description and location. Defendant walked back toward unit one of the fourplex.

Detective Chris Maher was assigned to the arrest team for the narcotics suppression unit that day. After receiving Detective Miller's information, Detective Maher pulled over in front of 5750 Garfield Avenue and saw defendant in front of the fourplex. Defendant made eye contact with Detective Maher, then immediately entered unit one.

The arrest team drove two unmarked black crew cab trucks. The vehicles had been used in such buy-bust operations once a week for two years and had gained a reputation as police vehicles on the street. Detective Maher and his partner were both wearing plain clothes and black raid vests with "SHERIFF" printed in yellow lettering on the front and back. The angle of approach could have permitted defendant to see the lettering through the windshield or passenger window. Detective Maher interpreted defendant's quick entry to his unit as a sign defendant realized they were police.

Defendant was inside the residence for 10 to 15 seconds, then reemerged. With defendant outside again, Detective Maher and his partner got out of the vehicle, identified themselves as police, and placed defendant in handcuffs.*fn1 At this point, two uniformed officers arrived at the scene, defendant identified himself, and the detectives searched him. The detectives did not find the prerecorded $20 bill or any contraband; the detectives found only defendant's keys. Detective Maher asked defendant where he lived, and he responded unit one of 5750 Garfield Avenue. Detective Maher then asked if anyone else was in the apartment; defendant hesitated, then said his teenage son was inside.

Detective Maher was concerned evidence was being destroyed within the residence, so the detectives used defendant's key to enter and announced their presence. Detectives did not try to enter the residence until they were told someone else was inside. The detectives swept through the residence and found a locked bathroom door. The detectives ordered the person to unlock the door. Defendant's son complied and was found flushing a large quantity of marijuana down the toilet.

Detective Maher asked defendant about the location of the prerecorded $20 bill, and defendant told them it was on his nightstand under a towel. The detectives recovered the bill there. Detectives also found packaging and scales in plain view in the residence.

Defendant testified at the suppression hearing. He admitted selling marijuana to Detective Miller and looking in the direction of the trucks when they arrived, but denied recognizing them as police vehicles. Defendant denied telling his son to destroy evidence. He testified the officers tried to get inside the residence before he told them anyone was there, and he told them his son was inside because he was afraid they were about to go in and shoot him.

Though the trial court considered the issue to be "right on the cusp," it denied defendant's motion to suppress because it found the need to prevent evidence destruction created exigent circumstances permitting warrantless entry.


On appeal, defendant raises a host of arguments why the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress was improper: (1) there was insufficient evidence contraband was in the home; (2) there was insufficient evidence the prerecorded buy funds were in the home; (3) the detectives' belief that evidence destruction was imminent was not supported by probable cause; (4) there was insufficient evidence the detectives actually relied on the presence of defendant's son in the home to justify their entry; (5) the presence of defendant's son in the residence did not justify exigency; and (6) the evidence was insufficient to establish defendant had alerted a coconspirator.*fn2

As we will show, the trial court properly determined the entry was justified by exigent circumstances arising from imminent evidence destruction and defendant's arguments to the contrary are without merit. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress.


Standard Of Review

"In reviewing the denial of a motion to suppress evidence, we view the record in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling and defer to its findings of historical fact, whether express or implied, if they are supported by substantial evidence. We then decide for ourselves what legal principles are relevant, independently apply them to the historical facts, and determine as a matter of law whether there has been an unreasonable search and/or seizure." (People v. Miranda (1993) 17 Cal.App.4th 917, 922.) "'"[S]ubstantial ...

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