Last quarter Criminal Defense Clinic (“CDC”) students filed a motion to suppress evidence based on the unlawful stop, detention and blood draw of a clinic client who was stopped by police for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk–a violation of municipal code in some cities. Professor Ron Tyler directs the CDC and shares details of this case and the students’ work below.
When students Jonathan Frank ’15 and Stephany Reaves ’15 started clinic in January they had no idea that so much of their time would be spent on bicycle signs and municipal code legislative history. It began with one phrase underlined by the defense attorney who transferred the case to the CDC. The provision under which the officer had stopped our client appeared to ban only biking on sidewalks “signed for pedestrian use only.”
Jon and Stephany were assigned to the case and quickly got to work. Three sign-hunting field trips, two briefs, one and a half hearings, and one 88-page Sunnyvale Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Study issue later, they were ready to argue that the officer’s suspicion could not have been reasonable because he had been wrong about the law. (See People v. Cox (2008) 168 Cal. App. 4th 705 [denied on other grounds].)
In the end, the judge thought the bicycle argument was cute but not worth considering. All for naught. Their next strongest argument, or so they thought, was that their client had her blood drawn without her consent, without a warrant, and without any demonstrated exigency in violation of the recent Supreme Court clarification in Missouri v. McNeely (2013) 133 S. Ct. 1552. Surely, this was a slam-dunk violation of the client’s Fourth Amendment rights. But, once again, all for naught. After testimony from the arresting officer, the judge made clear that he only wanted to hear arguments on the prolonged detention (and did not need to reach the blood draw question). The unlawfully prolonged detention won the day!
After our motion was granted, Jon and Stephany suppressed their smiles and walked out of the courtroom with their client. She was thrilled, overwhelmed, and effusively grateful–at last, she had been heard and felt justice. For their part, Jon and Stephany were appreciative that she had put her trust in them as her advocates. The prosecution has thirty days to appeal, but if all goes well the charges will be dismissed.