Be Careful What You Bring with You When Visiting in Jail

On September 29, 2011, the Second District Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Brian Boulter for possession of a controlled substance, among other charges, after he was arrested while visiting a friend at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles.

When one enters the jail, there is a sign that states: “Warning: persons entering this area are subject to the laws affecting a custody facility.  You and your possessions are subject to search at any time.”  A sign was also posted by the lockers for visitors, saying that no cameras, cell phones, recording devices or purses were allowed inside the visitor’s center.

Boulter had a camera with him inside the visitor’s center, which is prohibited, so officers at the jail arrested him for that.  Upon searching him, they also found keys in his pocket that were to two lockers for visitors to the jail.  The lockers were on jail property.  The officers then searched the lockers and found a substance resembling methamphetamine, twelve pills and a scale.

Boulter then presumably and ironically joined his friend behind bars.  As the methamphetamine, pills and the scale were left behind in the locker, there would be an argument that he had no intent to transfer such items to his friend, which would have been impossible anyways at Men’s Central.

Boulter was then charged with possession for sale of a controlled substance (Health and Safety Code § 11378), as well as three counts of bringing drugs into a jail (Penal Code § 4573). 

Under Penal Code § 1538.5, Boulter moved the trial court to suppress the evidence found in his locker, arguing that they were seized without probable cause or a warrant in violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. 

The issue became whether the search was a valid administrative search since, indeed, a camera does not suggest possession of drugs and therefore, probable cause to search would be lacking.  Boulter argued that a warrant should have been obtained before searching the locker, as there was no emergency and he did not consent to the search.  He did not argue, but certainly could have also argued that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the lockers because, after all, he was issued keys for the locks to the lockers, implying only he would have access to each locker.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress.  The Second District Court of Appeal affirmed, ruling that searches for an administrative purpose may be permissible even if unsupported by probable cause. 

In Boulter’s case, the search was deemed reasonable because, under the totality of the circumstances, there is a heightened governmental need to maintain security in a jail.  The Second District explained that Boulter could not have a reasonable expectation of privacy upon entering jail property and after all, he violated the jail’s clearly stated laws by blatantly attempting to smuggle in a camera to visit with his friend.

This ruling is significant for what it seems to warn and which the Court pointedly denied: that warrantless administrative searches may be a pretext for conducting an otherwise invalid criminal investigation and obtaining evidence in violation of California law.

For more information about jail issues, click on the following articles:
  1. What is House Arrest as an Alternative to Jail?
  2. Is My Call From Jail to My Attorney Really Private?
  3. Prison Sentence?  It May Be Served In County Jail Under A New California Law
For case summaries of selected cases our firm has handled, click here.

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