People v. Macabeo

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California Supreme Court merits representation of criminal defendant addressing whether, under the Fourth Amendment, a search incident to arrest of a cell phone must take place only after an actual arrest.

The Samuelson Clinic represented Paul Macabeo, a criminal defendant whose case was pending before the California Supreme Court. We co-counseled with Prof. Charles Weisselberg and Karin Bird. In the case, the police pulled Mr. Macabeo over for riding his bicycle through a stop sign. They searched his cell phone, and then arrested him based on the contraband content they found there. The case presented two issues: (1) Does the “search incident to arrest” exception to the warrant requirement permit officers to conduct full custodial searches based solely on the fact that they have probable cause for a minor traffic infraction, or must an actual arrest have occurred or be underway? (2) Does the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule permit the prosecution to rely on evidence it obtained through what it has conceded was an unconstitutional search of Mr. Macabeo’s cell phone? The California Supreme Court decided the case in favor of Mr. Macabeo. It held that under the Fourth Amendment, a warrantless search of Mr. Macabeo’s phone was improper, and a reasonable officer would have known that this was the case.

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