Cal.4: Warrantless seizure of def’s dashcam was reasonable on exigent circumstances; three days to get a SW wasn’t unreasonable

Defendant was convicted of reckless driving with an accident. His dashcam would have a recording of it. The dashcam was reasonably seized without a warrant on exigent circumstances. And, it wasn’t unreasonable to wait three days before getting a search warrant. People v. Kien Tran, 2019 Cal. App. LEXIS 1127 (4th Dist. Oct. 24, 2019):

Based on the record before us, we conclude that all the circumstances, and the rational inferences stemming from them, existing at the time Palmer seized the dashboard camera would have caused a reasonable officer to believe that immediate acquisition of the camera was necessary to preserve the potential evidence on it. Palmer’s testimony at the suppression hearing supports a rational inference that the camera contained footage of Tran driving. Palmer further relied on his investigation of the scene, his experience in dealing with high-performance cars with dashboard cameras, his knowledge of dashboard cameras, the fact Tran removed the camera from the car and placed it in his backpack, and Tran’s hesitancy in providing the camera to conclude he must seize the camera to prevent the destruction of evidence. His response was objectively reasonable.

Finally, for the first time in this appeal, Tran takes issue with the amount of time that transpired from the seizure of the camera until a search warrant was secured. He argues this three day span far outweighs the 90 minutes the court found unreasonable in Place, supra, 462 U.S. 696. (See id. at pp. 709-710.) He therefore asserts the three day gap rendered the seizure unreasonable. We disagree.

The seizure of the dashboard camera and the three days it took law enforcement to obtain a search warrant did not infringe upon Tran’s liberty interest to the same extent as the seizure of the defendant’s luggage for 90 minutes in Place. In Place, the defendant’s luggage was seized from him at an airport. As the court noted, this type of seizure intruded on the defendant’s possessory interest and his right to travel:

. . .

Here, we do not have similar concerns about the seizure of Tran’s dashboard camera. That seizure did not disrupt Tran’s travel plans because a dashboard camera clearly is not as integral to the necessities of travel as luggage containing clothes, toiletries, and other travel essentials. And, although we acknowledge that Tran did not have access to the camera while law enforcement held it, the police did not search the camera (i.e., view its contents) before obtaining a search warrant. So, Tran’s privacy interest in its contents was not infringed. Simply put, we conclude the seizure of the dashboard camera and the subsequent three day holding of the camera while law enforcement obtained a search warrant did not run afoul of Place.

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