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The People v. Christopher Easley

August 29, 2012

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
CHRISTOPHER EASLEY, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



(Super. Ct. No. 10F0238)

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

P. v. Easley

CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

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 This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

After the trial court denied defendant Christopher Easley's motion to suppress evidence obtained following a detention and search of his person (Pen. Code, § 1538.5),*fn1 defendant pled no contest to unlawful possession of a dirk or dagger. (§ 12020, subd. (a)(4).) Sentenced to a stipulated term of three years in prison, defendant contends his motion to suppress evidence should have been granted because the detention and subsequent search were illegal. With regard to the detention, defendant did not raise the validity of the initial detention in the trial court. Therefore, this issue is forfeited on appeal. With regard to the search, we conclude the search was justified based on the totality of circumstances. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The night of December 20, 2009, Redding Police Officer Michael Skeen pulled into a convenience store parking lot. Defendant was scratching a lottery ticket on top of a garbage can. When defendant saw Skeen in the patrol car, he immediately threw the lottery ticket toward the garbage can, and headed out of the parking lot. Defendant missed the garbage can and the ticket landed on the ground. Skeen's attention was initially drawn to defendant because his immediate reaction to seeing a police officer was to try to get out of the parking lot.

Skeen detained defendant for littering and defendant was immediately agitated and aggressive. He demanded to know why Skeen had stopped him, shouted and used profanities. Defendant was wearing a black bomber jacket with "white power" and swastika patches on it, red suspenders, and black combat boots with red laces. Because of his training and experience, Skeen was aware defendant's clothing identified him as a White supremacist gang member. He also knew that White supremacists wear black boots with red laces to identify themselves as gang members and to serve as a "trophy" earned by a gang member who beats and stomps someone with his boots until the victim bleeds. Because of defendant's identification as a gang member with specifically violent "achievements" and his level of agitation, Skeen informed defendant he was going to conduct a pat down search for weapons, for his safety. Defendant told Skeen he would not consent to a search. Skeen replied that given the circumstances, he did not need consent. Defendant started to reach into his pocket and offered to show Skeen his weapons. Skeen told him to stop and to put his hands on his head. Defendant then told Skeen he had a knife and pepper spray. Skeen asked if defendant had ever been convicted of a felony and defendant admitted he had been convicted of a hate crime. Skeen then conducted a search, and recovered a fixed blade knife and pepper spray from defendant's jacket pockets.

Defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the search, arguing the pat down was illegal because: (1) Skeen had no articulable facts to believe defendant was currently armed and dangerous; (2) Skeen illegally searched defendant's pocket because he did not have probable cause to believe it contained contraband, evidence, or weapons; and, (3) the prosecution had to offer a justification for the warrantless search and seizure. At the hearing, defendant's arguments focused on whether defendant had consented to the search and whether Skeen had "sufficient training and expertise to identify [defendant] as a potential threat and then pat search him. . . . We simply say there wasn't sufficient training and expertise along those lines, and that's our argument."

The People argued defendant had voluntarily told Skeen he had weapons on his person, and that admission gave Skeen probable cause to search defendant. The People also argued that given defendant's angry, agitated state and the fact he was "wearing the uniform of a white supremacist gang member," it was reasonable for the officer to conduct a pat down search for officer safety.

The trial court agreed that defendant's statement identifying the knife and pepper spray was a submission to authority, rather than consent. However, the court found, based on the circumstances, the officer did not need defendant's consent. Rather, the circumstances justified this "very minimal external pat down." Accordingly, the court denied the motion.

DISCUSSION

I Initial ...


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