When police officers impound a vehicle, they usually take inventory of everything found inside that vehicle.
The purpose of such a search is not to find evidence. Instead, it’s to avoid a dispute later should some item in the vehicle come up missing.
An inventory search is a warrantless search. Police are not allowed to perform the search for investigative purposes. And yet, sometimes, police officers do find evidence during these searches.
What happens when they do? Can they use it?
Here’s what you need to know.
In the 1976 Supreme Court case South Dakota v. Opperman, the Supreme Court upheld the right of law enforcement to use evidence obtained in an inventory search, as long as the purpose of the search is not to find evidence that could lead to criminal charges.
However, this does not mean that it’s impossible to suppress evidence from inventory searches. For example, in New York, law enforcement must submit standardized inventory search policies and procedures. Any time they wish to admit inventory search evidence, they must prove they followed those policies and procedures to demonstrate their search was reasonable.
In the 2020 case, People v. Jones, the New York Supreme Court suppressed a handgun located by police during an inventory search. Police used the handgun to charge a defendant with criminal weapons possession. They’d initially arrested the defendant on a DWI charge. The police officer failed to follow department policies and procedures regarding an inventory search, so the courts found the handgun inadmissible as evidence.
In addition, the vehicle must be lawfully impounded to be subjected to an inventory search. If police jump the gun and perform a warrantless search under the guise of performing an inventory search, it may be possible to suppress any and all evidence they obtained. In addition, police must have a valid basis for impounding the vehicle in the first place.
When you obtain representation from an experienced defense lawyer, you give yourself your best chances of exploring options for suppressing evidence, such as taking advantage of procedural failures on the part of the police. While the success of such a strategy will depend on the facts of your case, it helps to demonstrate why investing in a private criminal law firm like ours can make a significant difference to your case outcome.
If you’re in trouble, turn to us. Contact us to schedule a case review today.