Landmark Cases

Certain cases change all the rules! Browse through some of the big California decisions affecting the field of code enforcement (below).

People v. Bachrach (1980) 114 Cal. 3d Supp. 8, 170 Cal. Rptr. 773

Doctrine of strict liability applies to ordinances and statutes which are related to public safety and fire prevention.

The case involved an owner of an apartment building who was being prosecuted for violation of a number of provisions in an ordinance relating to public safety and fire prevention. The court rejected the defendant's proposed jury instruction which provided that "there must be a joint operation of act or conduct and criminal intent."

The court found that the crimes which the apartment owner was charged with did not require proof of guilty knowledge or intent. It held that the doctrine of strict liability applied and therefore neither intent nor criminal negligence was an essential element of the crimes charged.

People v. Tavers (1975) 52 Cal. App. 3d 111, 124 Cal. Rptr. 728

Statutes which deal with offenses of a regulatory nature are enforceable irrespective of criminal intent or criminal negligence.

In this case, the owner of a service station where petroleum products were sold was being prosecuted for misrepresentations regarding the quality of said petroleum which were made by his employee in the course of his sale of the products.

In deciding whether to impose strict liability the court looked to the legislative policy to be served by the statute. It distinguished criminal statutes which deal with offenses of a regulatory nature and held that guilty knowledge and intent are not elements of the offense where qualifying words such as knowingly, intentionally and fraudulently are omitted from provisions creating the offense.

People v. Balmer (1961) 196 Cal. App. 2d Supp. 874

Statutes which deal with offenses of a regulatory nature are enforceable irrespective of criminal intent or criminal negligence.

In Balmer, the defendants were being convicted for owning and operating a nursing and convalescent home without keeping it in good repair and in a neat and sanitary condition at all times. The court held that neither guilty knowledge not intent had to be shown and that the more omission to fulfill the required standard constituted the crime charged.

Camera v. Municipal Court (1967) 387 U. S. 523

Applied the Fourth Amendment to administrative inspections conducted by housing inspectors.

In Camera, the tenant refused to allow housing inspectors inside his apartment for an annual inspection. Where tenants refuse entry the court recommended that enforcement agencies petition a neutral judge for an administrative inspection warrant.

The principles which were established in Camera were later extended to administrative inspections of commercial uses and businesses in See v. City of Seattle (1967) 387 U.S. 541.

Gleaves v. Waters (1985) 175 Cal. App. 3d 413

The procedures which are available for obtaining an administrative warrant to inspect property may also be used to obtain a warrant to enter property for purposes of abating a known nuisance thereon.

In Gleaves, the California Department of Food and Agriculture obtained the necessary administrative authority to eradicate the Japanese Beetle. However, they did not obtain an inspection warrant to enter the private residential yard in which the beetles were located. The court held that "in the absence of exigent circumstances , government officials engaged in the abatement of a public nuisance must have a warrant to enter any private property where such entry would invade a constitutional protected privacy interest."

In discussing the propriety of using the administrative warrant procedure contained in Section 1822.50 et seq. of the California Code of Civil Procedure as a means of obtaining a warrant to abate a known nuisance, the court found that those sections are available for abating nuisances as well as for conducting inspections.

Conner v. City of Santa Ana (9th Cir. 1990) 897 F.2d 1487

While administrative hearings and procedures may establish the validity of an abatement, a warrant is necessary to enter onto the private property of another without his or her consent.

In Conner, the City of Santa Ana determined through its administrative procedures that two (2) inoperative vehicles located on private property constituted a public nuisance. When the property owners refused to remove the inoperative vehicles, the City entered onto the property and removed the vehicles whereupon the property owners filed a civil rights action against the City and its employees alleging a Fourth Amendment violation.

The court found for the property owners holding that despite the City's authority to remove the vehicles, the abatement itself required a warrant because it involved the unauthorized entry onto private property.

Vidaurri v. Superior Court (1970) 13 Cal. App. 3d 550, 91 Cal. Rptr. 704

A health inspector cannot enter an enclosed backyard without the owner's consent or an administrative warrant.

In Vidaurri, a state agricultural inspector went to a residence to inspect trees for insects. After finding no one at home, he opened an unlocked gate and entered the enclosed back yard. The court held that his entry was illegal and that any evidence obtained therefrom was inadmissible.

The court found that the property owner by surrounding his backyard with a fence and a gate (whether locked or unlocked) had shown a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area thus protecting it from government search without a warrant.

Dillon v. Superior Court (1972) 7 Cal. 3d 305, 102 Cal. Rptr. 161

Objects or conditions which are fully visible to an officer who has a right to be where he is are admissible without a warrant.

In Dillon, the officer observed illegal marijuana plants growing in the defendant's back yard. While he could not see these plants from the sidewalk or street, he was able to see them clearly from a neighbor's second story window. Because the neighbor had given the officer permission to enter her property for purposes of observing the plants, the court admitted the evidence holding that a warrant was not necessary since the plants were in plain view of the officer and neighbors.

© 2001-2002 Dapeer, Rosenblit & Litvak, LLP
All rights reserved.