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The People v. Alejandro Valencia

December 8, 2011

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
ALEJANDRO VALENCIA, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Dennis J. Landin, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BA370337)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

INTRODUCTION

After being pulled over for a traffic violation, appellant Alejandro Valencia gave a Los Angeles police officer consent to search his truck. The officer conducted a brief search and found nothing incriminating. During the search, a second officer discovered that Valencia might have outstanding arrest warrants. The officers transported Valencia and his vehicle to a local police station, where a third officer reinspected the truck and found a bindle containing approximately three grams of cocaine. Valencia was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine for the purpose of sale.

Valencia filed a motion to suppress arguing that the second search of his vehicle exceeded the scope of his consent. The trial court denied the motion and Valencia pled no contest to the lesser included offense of possession of cocaine. (Health & Saf. Code, § 11350, subd (a).)

On appeal, Valencia contends that the second search of his vehicle did not fall within the scope of his consent, and, as a result, the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress. We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND A. Summary of Events Preceding Valencia's Arrest

On April 15, 2010, Los Angeles Police Officer Ruben Banuelos and his partner, Officer Scott Costa, were driving down 45th Street in a marked police vehicle. At approximately 5:15 p.m., Officer Banuelos noticed that a blue pick-up truck had a "broken tail light" and conducted a traffic stop.

Officer Banuelos ordered the driver, appellant Alejandro Valencia, to exit the vehicle and informed him that he "was stopped because of a broken tail light." Officer Banuelos asked Valencia if he could search the truck and Valencia "gave [his] consent to do so." Officer Banuelos performed a "cursory search" of the "front compartment and cargo area of the vehicle," but "found nothing."

While Officer Banuelos was searching the vehicle, Officer Costa conducted a warrant check on Valencia and determined that he might have outstanding arrest warrants. Officer Banuelos transported Valencia to the police station to investigate the matter further. Rather than leaving Valencia's truck on the side of the road, Officer Costa elected to drive the vehicle to the station, where the officers "planned to release [it] to [Valencia] if the possible warrants that came back on the computer were not his."

When Officer Banuelos and Valencia arrived at the station, Officer Banuelos told Officer Michael Hofmeyer that Valencia had consented to a search of his vehicle. Although Hofmeyer was aware that Officer Banuelos had already searched Valencia's truck, he decided to conduct a second search at the police station. An officer assisting Officer Hofmeyer with the search found a bindle in the cab of the truck that contained approximately three grams of cocaine.

B. Trial Court Proceedings

On June 15, 2010, the Los Angeles District Attorney filed an information charging Valencia with a single count of possession of cocaine for the purpose of sale. (Health & Saf. Code, § 11351.) During the trial court proceedings, Valencia filed a motion to suppress the cocaine recovered during the second search of his vehicle. Valencia argued that Officer Hofmeyer had failed to obtain consent prior to conducting the search and had no other lawful grounds to search the vehicle.

Officer Banuelos and Officer Hofmeyer were the only witnesses who testified at the hearing on the motion to suppress. Officer Banuelos stated that, during the traffic stop, he asked Valencia "Can I search your truck?" and Valencia "gave [his] consent to do so." Officer Banuelos then conducted a brief search but "found nothing." Officer Banuelos further testified that, after conducting the search, he transported Valencia to the station based on information Officer Costa had provided "regarding the status of the warrants [in relationship] to the defendant."

Officer Hofmeyer testified that he had been "in the area" when Officers Banuelos and Officer Costa stopped Valencia's truck and was aware that Officer Banuelos had searched the vehicle at the time of the initial stop. Defense counsel asked Officer Hofmeyer whether Officer Banuelos informed him that Valencia provided consent to search the truck "before or after the truck was taken to [the police s]tation." Officer Hofmeyer explained that Officer Banuelos told him Valencia had given "consent [during the stop at] 45th" street both "prior to the [initial] search," and again "at [the police s]tation." Officer Hofmeyer further explained that he performed the second search of the vehicle shortly after Valencia's initial stop "due to the fact we had consent."

The district attorney argued that, based on the officers' testimony, Officer Hofmeyer's search fell within the scope of Valencia's consent: "I don't believe that just because Officer Banuelos said 'Can I search your car?' . . . [C]onsent was just of that one person and nobody else . . . to search the car. [Officer Banuelos] did a cursory search at the location. [The officers] had reason to take the car to the station. There was no withdrawal of any consent. Consent was not limited. At the station, there was the opportunity to do a more extensive search, and it was done. The drugs were found. . . . Consent was valid and, therefore the search was valid."

Defense counsel, however, argued that Officer Hofmeyer was not permitted to conduct a second search of the vehicle because Valencia's "consent ended when Officer Banuelos finished his search": "No reasonable person would be able to give consent to every police officer. Officer Banuelos did not . . . even participate in the second search. The limited scope of this search was, "Can I search your car?" No reasonable person would expect his car would be taken off the street, driven to a police station and searched by . . . other officers. [¶] . . . It is a limited consent. Once the consent was done, there was no justification to search his car again at [the police station]. . . . [T]hat consent did not go along with him to [the police station]."

The trial court denied the motion, ruling that Officer Hofmeyer had not exceeded the scope of Valencia's consent because "[t]here was no suggestion that there be any limitation on the search."

After the trial court denied the motion, Valencia pled guilty to a single count of possession of cocaine in violation of Health and Safety Code section 11350, subdivision (a). At sentencing, the trial court found that Valencia was "eligible for sentencing pursuant to Prop. 36, Penal Code section 1210.1." The court suspended imposition of a sentence and ordered that Valencia be "be placed on Proposition . . . 36 for a period of 18 months."

Valencia filed a timely appeal of the trial court's order denying the motion to suppress.

DISCUSSION

On appeal, Valencia argues that Officer Hofmeyer's search of the vehicle exceeded the scope of his consent. More specifically, Valencia argues that his consent did not "extend to a second search ...


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