United States v. Talley (California 2020) 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106004

Traffic Stop; Possession of Marijuana in Closed Container; Good Faith Exception

Traffic stop for lane violation. While collecting license, registration and insurance, LE noticed a closed clear plastic tube that appeared to contain marijuana. The two occupants were ordered out and a search of the vehicle was done, finding a firearm, ammo and a cell phone. Driver was federally indicted for possession of the firearm and ammo by a felon.

Subject filed a motion to suppress, stating that the search of his vehicle by city police was unlawful because possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in a closed container is no longer illegal in California. The court found that California law no longer prohibits possession of under an ounce of marijuana in a closed container, even though federal law still prohibits possession of marijuana. The Ninth Circuit has held in previous cases that local police officers did not have probable cause based on alleged violations of federal law when local officers were, at the time, investigating a violation of state law. Particularly since California law states that legal possession of marijuana shall not constitute the basis for detention, search or arrest, the court held that the federal law cannot provide an alternative basis for probable cause in this situation because it would lead to the “paradoxical result of allowing state law enforcement officers to defy the state laws they are entrusted with upholding so that they might enforce federal laws which they cannot be compelled to enforce. (Citations). Moreover, practically speaking, to permit this end-run around California’s legalization scheme would grant state law enforcement officers carte blanche to disregard the Fourth Amendment rights of large numbers of California residents engaging in activity the state has deemed lawful.”

The court also addressed the good faith exception, holding that it did not apply as the state law making marijuana legal to possess in a small amount in a closed container had been the law since 2016 (although the Shumaker opinion which determined what was meant by “closed” container came out months after this search).