In Department of Transportation v. State Personnel Board, (— Cal.Rptr.3d —-, Cal.App. 2 Dist., October 20, 2009), a California Court of Appeal considered whether, in the context of an administrative disciplinary proceeding for a state employee, the exclusionary rule prohibits admission of evidence recovered by the California Highway Patrol (“CHP”) in an illegal search. The Court of Appeal held that the exclusionary rule does not apply in a disciplinary proceeding against the employee.
Lee B. Kendrick, III, was an employee of the Department of Transportation (“Caltrans”), when he allegedly threatened his supervisor. The supervisor asked another employee to call the police after Kendrick made the threats. After a CHP officer arrived at the Caltrans facility, the supervisor told the officer that Kendrick was capable of physical violence because he had been previously arrested on weapon charges and had threatened two other employees. The supervisor told the CHP officer that he feared Kendrick might attempt to cause him physical harm.
The CHP officer made contact with Kendrick as he was retrieving objects from his personal vehicle. Kendrick admitted he used profanity but denied making threats against his supervisor other than stating, “Why don’t I stomp you a new mudhole.” The officer arrested Kendrick for using offensive words, making threats, and fighting. The officer searched Kendrick’s car and found a handgun and ammunition and also conducted a search of Kendrick’s person and found methamphetamine. Kendrick faced criminal drug and weapons charges. Kendrick however was successful in suppressing the evidence obtained from the officer’s search and the criminal charges were dismissed.
Caltrans terminated Kendrick’s employment for shouting, threatening and being discourteous to his supervisor and for violating Caltrans policies against violence, weapons, and drugs in the workplace. During Kendrick’s appeal of his termination to the State Personnel Board (“Board”), he sought to exclude the evidence seized during the search of his car and person. The Board ultimately concluded the exclusionary rule should apply to exclude the evidence obtained during the search. Caltrans filed a petition for writ of mandate in a California superior court. The superior court found the Board abused its discretion when it applied the exclusionary rule.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the superior court that the exclusionary rule was not applicable to the administrative disciplinary proceeding. The purpose of the exclusionary rule in criminal proceedings “is to deter police from violating the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.” The exclusionary rule is rarely applied in civil actions unless authorized by statute even if a government agency is involved in the civil action and another government agency unlawfully seized the evidence. The rule is only applied to civil proceedings that are “so closely identified with the aims of criminal prosecution as to be ‘quasi-criminal.'”
The rule has also been applied seldomly in administrative proceedings. One administrative case where the rule was applied involved a situation where the search that produced the evidence was directed and conducted by the agency involved in the administrative proceeding at issue. Here, Caltrans did not initiate or conduct the search of Kendrick’s car or person. CHP alone was responsible for the search. Caltrans, as an agency, is distinguishable from CHP and the entities are independent of each other.
A balancing test must be utilized to determine whether the exclusionary rule should be applied in administrative disciplinary proceedings. This test must weigh “the social consequences of applying the exclusionary rules and to the effect thereof on the integrity of the judicial process.” The primary purpose of criminal penalties is to punish the offender. Although administrative penalties may be punitive in nature, “they are primarily designed to protect the public from the practices of the offender.” Public agencies must be free to investigate and discipline employees who betray the public’s trust.
The court found there were insufficient grounds to extend the exclusionary rule to Kendrick’s disciplinary proceedings. The public is entitled to protection from a state worker who carries a concealed weapon and uses illegal drugs and public employees are also entitled to protection from dangerous coworkers. There is no evidence that the CHP officer in this case fabricated anything in an effort to have Kendrick terminated from his employment. Also, the officer was already “punished” when the evidence was excluded from the criminal case. The officer was not conducting an administrative investigation on Caltrans’ behalf, rather, he was conducting a criminal investigation. Therefore, the exclusionary rule is inapplicable to the present set of circumstances.
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