UT: Def succeeds on claim opening car door can be a 4A search, but loses on Davis good faith reliance on prior case

Police opening the door of defendant’s car on a McDonald’s parking lot where he’d nodded off can be a search. Prior authority permitting it, State v. James, 2000 UT 80, 13 P.3d 576, is now limited. This can be a trespass as in Jones. However, on Davis good faith exception, this change in the law inures to the benefit of the validity of this search. State v. Malloy, 2021 UT 3, 2021 Utah LEXIS 5 (Jan. 21, 2021):

¶4 … Malloy challenges the court of appeals’ decision on two main fronts. He first asserts that the analysis in James is unduly sweeping and has been overtaken by subsequent, binding authority, such as United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012) (holding that a physical trespass on a vehicle-in the attachment of a GPS device-constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment). And he also contends that the police acted unreasonably-and not in a manner commensurate with any community caretaking concerns-in opening his car door and thereby effecting a search.

¶5 We agree with Malloy’s first point as a matter of Fourth Amendment principles. On reflection, and over time, our sweeping statements in James have been revealed to be overbroad. Under Jones and related cases, it can no longer be said that it makes no constitutional difference whether a police officer opens a car door or asks a driver to do so. For reasons explained further below, we repudiate the sweeping language of our opinion in James and hold that the identity of the door-opener may well affect the reasonableness of a given police encounter.

¶6 In so stating we are not holding that any and all police acts of door-opening amount to Fourth Amendment searches- much less unreasonable searches, or unreasonable searches triggering the exclusionary rule. In fact, we do not conclude that the evidence here is subject to exclusion. We affirm the denial of Malloy’s motion to suppress under the authority of Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229 (2011). Davis establishes an important limitation on the exclusionary rule. It holds that evidence secured in ―objectively reasonable reliance on binding … precedent is not subject to exclusion. Id. at 232.

¶7 We affirm on that narrow basis. While repudiating and limiting the sweeping language of our opinion in James, we hold that the police here acted objectively reasonably in reliance on that precedent. And we thus affirm the denial of the motion to suppress without reaching the ultimate question of the reasonableness of the search or seizure in question (as an element of a traffic stop or an encounter incident to community caretaking).

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