California SCt overrules prior authority: search incident of car no longer reasonable for not having DL

California overrules prior case that a search incident of a car, here the driver’s purse, was permissible for identification documents when a driver says she didn’t have a driver’s license. Meth was found in the purse. California seems to be alone in this, and it’s unreasonable and overruled. People v. Lopez, 2019 Cal. LEXIS 8892 (Nov. 25, 2019) (4-3):

Acting on an anonymous tip about a motorist’s erratic driving, a police officer approached defendant Maria Elena Lopez after she parked and exited her car. When the officer asked if she had a driver’s license, she said she did not. Police then detained her for unlicensed driving and, without asking her name, searched the car for Lopez’s personal identification. They found methamphetamine in a purse sitting on the front passenger’s seat.

The trial court held the search was invalid under Arizona v. Gant (2009) 556 U.S. 332 (Gant), which narrowed the scope of permissible warrantless vehicle searches incident to a driver’s arrest. The Court of Appeal reversed. It held that the search was authorized under this court’s pre-Gant decision in In re Arturo D. (2002) 27 Cal.4th 60 (Arturo D.), which allowed police to conduct warrantless vehicle searches for personal identification documents at traffic stops when the driver failed to provide a license or other personal identification upon request.

We granted review to consider the application and continuing validity of the Arturo D. rule in light of subsequent legal developments. At the time Arturo D. was decided, no other state or federal court had recognized an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement for suspicionless traffic-stop vehicle searches. The same holds true today; California remains the only state to have recognized such an exception.

Considering the issue in light of more recent decisions from both the United States Supreme Court and our sister states, we now conclude that the desire to obtain a driver’s identification following a traffic stop does not constitute an independent, categorical exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. To the extent Arturo D. held otherwise, we conclude that rule should no longer be followed. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remand for further proceedings.

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