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Supremes Toss Local Drug Bust Conviction

Rule Santa Barbara Police Officers Searched Without Warrant

California Supreme Court | Credit: Tobias Kleinlercher / Wikipedia

The California Supreme Court unanimously reversed the conviction of a Santa Barbara man for possessing large quantities of guns ​— ​including a submachine gun and a silencer ​— ​ammunition, and concentrated cannabis cultivation and production equipment, ruling that the search of the man’s premises did not meet constitutional standards. In so doing, the high court overruled the Court of Appeal, which had upheld the search and the conviction. 

The case dates back to 2015, when Santa Barbara police officers responded to the home of Willie Ovieda, whom they knew to be armed and making suicidal threats. When officers arrived, Ovieda had already been disarmed by friends and escorted out of his house. Police handcuffed Ovieda and then conducted a warrantless search of the home, at the time a significant production site for cannabis products. 

Ovieda’s attorneys failed to convince the trial court the search was defective ​— ​conducted without a warrant and with no imminent emergency presented ​— ​and he pled guilty and was sentenced to probation. Because the police had Ovieda cuffed and disarmed, the Supreme Court ruled, he presented no threat to himself or others. The police in that situation, the court said, should have obtained a warrant before searching the premises. The police argued they needed to determine if any other people were inside and if they were safe. They could not rely, they said, on the statements made by Ovieda and his friends that the house was empty and secure.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court with an order to exclude any of the incriminating evidence obtained by the search as evidence. 

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