Thursday, October 18, 2012

People v. Walker (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 18, 2012)

I'm confused.

Justice Duffy's opinion in this case seems to correctly analyze the facts.  Police officers detain Everett Walker -- who's riding a train in San Jose -- because he purportedly looks like a suspect who sexually assaulted a woman at the same train station a week earlier.  But we've got a description of the suspect, and there's indeed a similarity.  Both the suspect and Walker are black.

That's about it.  Everything else is markedly different.

So Justice Duffy doesn't say so, but essentially, Walker got detained for TWB (a lesser-known variant of DWB).  Training While Black.

That's not okay.  Not reasonable suspicion.  Not a basis for legitimately stopping Walker.  So the conviction gets reversed.

That I understand.  Here's the part I don't get:

The officer initially comes up to Walker and asks him for his train ticket; i.e., proof that he paid the fare.  Walker responds by giving him a copy of a student identification card with the name "Aalim Moor" on it and a valid VTA sticker attached.  That'd be valid fare payment if Walker was indeed Aalim Moor.  So the officer calls in a record check, finds out that the birthdates don't match (and that Walker's way, way shorter than the actual Aalim Moor), at which point the officer arrests Walker for providing false identification and, in a search incident to arrest, discovers the drugs.

I agree with Justice Duffy that all that goes away if the initial stop was impermissible.  And I also agree that you can't justify the stop on the basis that Walker purportedly looked like the suspects in the prior sexual assault.

But what about the ticket?

Officers can legitimately ask riders to produce their ticket.  That's permissible.  Indeed, the officer's duties in the present case included fare enforcement.  Sure, that's not why -- in fact -- he decided to pick out Walker as opposed to anyone else.  But we already know that subjective intent is irrelevant to the validity of a stop.  What matters is simply is whether the detention was authorized.  Which the request for the ticket was.

Justice Duffy says in a footnote that the Attorney General conceded at oral argument that the officer didn't have reasonable suspicion to believe (prior to stopping him) that Walker hadn't paid the fare.  I get that, and am certain that this concession is true.  But what I don't understand is the predicate; i.e., why the officer even needed reasonable suspicion.  You can ask people for their ticket even if you have no particular reason to believe they're not carrying one.  Train conductors and transit officers do it all the time.  That's not a violation.  No suspicion at all is required.

It's true that the officer didn't ask everyone for their ticket, only Walker.  But that doesn't make it a violation either.  You can ask some people for tickets and not others.  True, you can't do it on a basis that's constitutionally impermissible; e.g., you can't only ask black people to show their tickets but not whites.  But there's no evidence or discussion on that point at all.  Justice Duffy doesn't hold that the stop was race-based (and hence a violation of the Equal Protection Clause), but rather that it was conducted without reasonable suspicion and hence an unreasonable search.  But it can't be the latter if the officer was permitted to stop Walker -- amongst others -- to ask him (as he did) to show his ticket and to investigate whether the ticket that was produced was indeed his (as, again, the officer did).

So I'm truly in a quandary as to why this case comes out the way it does.  Even if I agree with every word that's said.

It may be (I admit) that there are additional facts of which I'm unaware.  For example, it seems that the officer may have stopped Walker shortly after he hopped off the train, rather than while he was still on it.  Maybe that matters.  Maybe at that point an officer needs reasonable suspicion, since the search is not longer "administrative" (or some such variant).  But the facts may also be otherwise; I am confident, for example, that many mass transit systems have a rule that says you have to have a ticket to even be at the station (e.g., at the immediate loading/unloading area), which is where Walker appears to have been stopped.  Plus, I'm not even sure it matters.  If Walker could be asked to show his ticket while still on the train, why not immediately once he got off?  Or does getting off the train mean there's now a heightened requirement before you can be demanded to show your ticket?  If so, next time I ride the train, I'm going to be sure to hop off promptly once I notice that there's an officer coming around who's actually checking tickets.  Problem solved.  Fare successfully evaded.

I concede that, at some point, reasonable suspicion is required.  I'm sure, for example, the officer could not follow Walker home and -- two feet from his doorstep and fifty minutes after he got off the train -- demand to see his ticket.  Reasonable suspicion seems applicable at that point.  But I'm not at all confident that the right dividing line between these two doctrinal fields is immediately at the door of the train.

So I wonder what the truth is here.  Either legally or factually.  Because it seems to me that the stop might well be justified.