• UPDATE: Police Officers Who Had Probable Cause To Arrest A Man For Trespassing Did Not Violate His Constitutional Rights But Violated State Law By Taking Him Into Custody For An Infraction
  • April 21, 2010 | Author: Mona Ebrahimi
  • Law Firm: Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard A Law Corporation - Sacramento Office
  • In Edgerly v. City and County of San Francisco, (--- F.3d ----, C.A.9 (Cal.), March 19, 2010), the United States Court of Appeals considered claims of wrongful arrest and illegal search in the case of a man arrested for trespassing and who was searched after police officers observed him standing inside the fence of a housing project.

    The court ruled that although the police had probable cause to make the arrest, and that the arrest itself did not violate the man’s Fourth Amendment rights, they had authority under state law only to cite the man for an infraction, and not to make a custodial arrest. Further, the court ruled that a jury could reasonably find that the search was unreasonable in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the officers had no immunity from liability for the arrest or search.

    This Legal Alert updates our previous 2007 Legal Alert which decision was withdrawn by the Court of Appeals in light of the referenced Virginia case.

    Two City and County of San Francisco (“City”) police officers on routine patrol saw Erris Edgerly standing inside a fence of a housing project and saw him again in the same place five minutes later. Knowing Edgerly from a previous drug offense, and knowing that he did not live at the location, the officers arrested him for trespassing. The officers performed a pat-down search and took Edgerly to a police station for an additional search. Edgerly claimed, and the officers denied, that he was told to pull down his pants and that officers then looked inside his underwear. The search revealed no contraband and a sergeant ordered the officers to cite and release Edgerly, who was never prosecuted for any offense.

    Edgerly sued the City, alleging violations of his Fourth Amendment rights, and violations of state laws for false arrest and unlawful search. The district court granted summary judgment to the City on the Fourth Amendment claims. At trial, the court ruled that the officers had probable cause to arrest Edgerly for some potential offense, that the search was reasonable, and the officers were entitled to immunity from all of Edgerly’s claims. Edgerly appealed.

    The Court of Appeals ruled in 2007 that the police lacked probable cause for the arrest and that the arrest and search were unconstitutional. The case was remanded to district court for further proceedings. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Virginia v. Moore, 128 S. Ct. 1598, that state arrest restrictions are irrelevant to Fourth Amendment decisions. The Court of Appeals then withdrew its 2007 decision and reconsidered the case in light of the Virginia ruling.

    The Court quoted the Virginia ruling’s finding that “state restrictions [on arrest] do not alter the Fourth Amendment’s protections,” and under federal law, “warrantless arrests for crimes committed in the presence of an arresting officer are reasonable under the constitution.” In light of that, the court reversed its earlier ruling and found that the arrest was constitutional and that the district court correctly dismissed Edgerly’s Fourth Amendment claim.

    While the arrest was not unconstitutional, California state law requires more to justify an arrest in this type of case, the court said. The court noted that the officers suspected Edgerly of trespassing in violation of Penal Code Section 602.8, an infraction, and that Penal Code Section 835.5(a) allows a custodial arrest for an infraction only when the arrestee refuses to sign a promise to appear, has no identification, or refuses to provide a fingerprint. Thus, the court found Edgerly’s custodial arrest was not permitted under California law. His claim for false arrest under state law was therefore remanded for further proceedings.

    Additionally, the court reaffirmed its earlier ruling that a jury could find that the officers’ search of Edgerly was unreasonable and also remanded that claim for further proceedings. The officers suspected Edgerly only of trespass, a minor offense not involving contraband, weapons, or violence. A jury should have considered Edgerly’s claim that he was illegally strip searched.

    The court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Edgerly’s Fourth Amendment claims but reversed and remanded for further proceedings his claims for false arrest under state law and unreasonable search.