Appeals court rules probable cause standards apply on Indian land 4-3-07

JACKSON, California (AP) - Police must have probable cause to search people and their property, even if they are on sovereign American Indian lands, a California appeals court ruled.

Tribal police officers lacked a sufficiently strong reason to suspect that Gilbert Ramirez was committing a crime when they searched his car in the Jackson Rancheria Casino parking lot in November 2003, a three-judge panel of the Third Appellate District Court ruled last week.

According to court records, two officers searched the car after seeing Ramirez digging through the vehicle's center console while the driver peered around ``nervously.'' They found large quantities of methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the car, and authorities prosecuted him for intending to sell them.

Amador County Superior Court later threw out evidence from the search, saying the tribal police officers lacked probable cause.

The charges were dropped, but the state Attorney General's Office appealed the decision, on the grounds that the Constitution's Fourth Amendment protection against ``unreasonable searches and seizures'' did not apply on Indian lands.

The appeals court's unanimous ruling said tribal governments must comply with the same standards for searches established for federal law officers.

The Attorney General may appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.


Information from: The Record,