On March 10, 2015, an LAPD Detective (with five officers in tow, all in raid jackets), knocked on the door of our client’s home located in Winnetka, a suburb of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. The Detective received an anonymous tip there was a marijuana grow there. Our client’s roommate answered and the Detective asked for consent to search the house because there was no search warrant. According to the Detective, consent was granted, and the roommate even signed a form giving consent for the search. The search uncovered a marijuana grow and butane hash oil (BHO) extraction lab in an adjoining garage. The evidence included 70 clone plants, 65 mature plants, pvc pipe, approximately 400 cans of butane (used and unused), and approximately 60 pounds of trim and flower. There was also a large amount of oil cartridges and envelopes of dabs of concentrate. The photos (some of which are attached) and evidence were terrible and suggested they were operating a butane lab in a residential community. Four people including our client were arrested and charged with the manufacture of a controlled substance using a chemical extraction process in violation of Health & Safety Code §11379.6.
On November 18, we had a hearing in Dept. 120 of the LA Superior Court in Van Nuys, on the motion to suppress evidence we filed. The motion challenged the issue of whether there was consent. At that time, two of the defendants had already entered guilty pleas. The two remaining defendants – our client and his roommate—both testified at the hearing, as did the arresting Detective. Our clients told a much different story than the Detective. According to them, when the Detective knocked on the door and asked about the grow, the roommate refused to consent to the search but indicated he was a medical marijuana patient. He closed the door behind him and went to retrieve his recommendation for medical marijuana. At that point the Detective opened the door and pointed his gun at our client and the others and ordered them out of the house. At that point, he told them things could be done the “easy way” or “the hard way,” the latter involving our clients being handcuffed and detained outside while they waited for a search warrant. Our client and his roommate did not want to do things the hard way, so they did not resist the search, and the roommate even signed the consent to search form (although it seems the search began before the form was signed). Our client and his roommate testified very credibly and consistently as to what happened. They were helped by the fact that one of the defendants who already pled guilty, and whom we subpoenaed, also told a similar story, and he had nothing to gain by lying. If consent to search was obtained under duress, it is not knowing and voluntary. Consent at gun point, or where you are told you basically have no choice, is not consent.
In the end, after several hours of testimony, the Judge granted the motion, finding that the People did not meet their burden on the motion, which is to demonstrate consent where there is a warrant-less search. The Judge found the police officer’s story unbelievable, although the Judge did not outright find he was lying. Because the People could not proceed without the suppressed evidence, the Judge also dismissed the case.
Needless to say, a rare and great victory for our clients and the Fourth Amendment! It was particularly sweet since our client’s roommate, represented by my friend and colleague Jay Leiderman, is not a United States citizen, and faced deportation (not to mention jail) if convicted on the charges. Both clients faced a minimum of three years in jail if convicted.