Arizona Supreme Court rules vehicle search without warrant was legal

Driving onto your own property before you stop for the police won’t protect you from having your vehicle searched. But that’s not even quite what happened in a case that went to the Arizona Supreme Court.

In a recent unanimous ruling the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Cochise County Deputies acted within the law when they searched the vehicle of a man who refused to pull over until he had pulled into the driveway of somebody’s girlfriend.

The justices said even if Anthony L. Hernandez had been invited onto the Willcox property — giving him the same right of privacy had it been his own yard — his failure to stop when the deputies first asked him to pull over meant he effectively invited them onto the property.

“No citizen has a legal right to ignore or defy an officer’s attempt to conduct a lawful traffic stop on a public road,” Justice John Lopez wrote for the court.

Lopez acknowledged that the deputies were initially trying to pull Hernandez over after running a check of his license plate and finding out that his legally mandated liability insurance had expired a month earlier. And that is only a civil violation.

But the justice also said that knowingly failing to comply with a traffic stop is a crime.

In this case, Lopez said, Hernandez did not immediately pull over. Instead, he went up over a curb and ended up in the driveway of his girlfriend’s house.

The deputies said they smelled marijuana. After taking Hernandez into custody they discovered marijuana, methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia.

He eventually was convicted after Cochise County Superior Court Judge James Conologue rejected his bid to have the search declared illegal.

Lopez said where the vehicle came to a stop was adjacent to the back of the house, an area at least partially obstructed from public view. And under normal circumstances, the judge said, someone there would have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” meaning officers normally would need a warrant.

But Lopez said that it’s not that simple.

“When the officers attempted to stop Hernandez, he had two lawful options: stop on the public road or lead officers onto private property to complete the stop,” the judge explained.

“Contrary to his argument, the Constitution does not provide a third option positing that a driver may decline to stop on a public road and retreat onto private property, which provides a Fourth Amendment sanctuary from the law,” Lopez continued. “The third option is untenable, as it would endanger police officers and the public by incentivizing flight from law enforcement.”