Search of a Person


In People v. Crowder (1982) 136 Cal.App.3d 841, the suspect called a drug store pharmacy, identified himself as a particular doctor, and ordered a prescription to be filled. The pharmacist knew the doctor in question and suspected that the person calling was not really that doctor. After hanging up the phone, the pharmacist called the actual doctor, who confirmed that he had not called in the prescription. The pharmacist notified the security officer on duty and waited for the suspect to arrive.

When the suspect arrived, the pharmacist provided him with the prescription. The security officer then arrested the suspect and removed the prescription from the suspect’s pocket.

The prosecution never argued that the search of the suspect’s clothing was incident to a search for weapons. The trial court denied the defense’s motion to exclude the pills from evidence. The trial court denied that motion, the pills were admitted into evidence, and the suspect was convicted.

On appeal, the court found that the security officer’s search of the suspect’s pockets was an impermissible search of the suspect’s clothing. As such, the pills should have been excluded from the evidence at trial. However, the appellate court did not reverse the suspect’s conviction because it found that there was ample evidence to convict the suspect, even if the pills had been excluded. For example, at trial, the pharmacist, security officer, and the suspect himself, all testified that the suspect took possession of the pills inside the pharmacy.

While the conviction of the suspect was upheld in that case, you should never assume that you can get away with an illegal search because you believe that there is sufficient evidence to convict a defendant. Always follow the law when you are making a citizen’s arrest.

Search of a Person’s Belongings


In People v Zellinski (1979) 24 Cal.3d 357, a store detective witnessed the suspect place a blouse from the store into her purse. The suspect then placed her purse into a straw bag being sold by the store. The suspect also selected a pair of shoes which she paid for and then exited the store.

The store detective arrested her outside and brought her back into the store office. He briefiy left as a female security officer performed a cursory weapons search of the suspect. The store detective reentered the office and opened the suspect’s purse where he found the blouse. He also found a small vial on top of the blouse. The detective opened the vial and found heroin inside. The store detective then called the police.

The suspect was charged with possession of heroin. However, the suspect’s conviction was overturned because the California Supreme Court found that the store detective engaged in an illegal search and seizure. The initial detention and search for weapons was permissible. However, the store detective was not permitted to open the vial.

Under the Shopkeeper’s Privilege, the store detective was limited in searching for the property taken. Had he waited for the police, they would have had probable cause, based upon the detective’s statements, to place her under felony arrest for commercial burglary, a felony, and could have conducted a full search prior to transporting her. The vial would have been properly opened and the evidence would not have been suppressed