Inventory Search of Vehicle after Arrest

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Posted in On July 9, 2017

A Quick Look at Inventory Searches after an Arrest

Getting pulled over can be an unsettling experience regardless of one’s familiarity with the law.  Understanding the interpretation of both the U.S. Constitution Fourth Amendment and Article 1 §11 of the Indiana Constitution is instrumental when presented with a situation where a police officer searches your vehicle.  While citizens have the constitutional “right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search or seizure,” this protection also applies to our vehicles with a few exceptions.

One of these exceptions is a ‘valid inventory search.’ This is a search that takes place of a lawfully impounded vehicle when the officer does not have a warrant.  Police are permitted to conduct a warrantless search of a lawfully impounded vehicle if the search is designed to produce an inventory of the vehicle’s contents.  Fair v. State, 627 N.E.2d 427, 431 (Ind.1993).  The rationale for an inventory search is three-fold:

(1) protection of private property in police custody;
(2) protection of police against claims of lost or stolen property; and
(3) protection of police from possible danger. Taylor, 842 N.E.2d at 330–31. Whitley v. State, 47 N.E.3d 640, 645 (Ind. App. 2015), transfer denied, 46 N.E.3d 445 (Ind. 2016)

To determine whether an inventory search is law, the Indiana Supreme Court has established a two-prong test:

  • that the officer’s belief that the vehicle posed a harm or a threat to the community was consistent with standards of sound policing; and
  • that the decision to combat that threat by impoundment was in keeping with established departmental routine or regulation. Berry v. State, 967 N.E.2d 87, 91 (Ind. App.)

Keep in mind that both prongs must be established in order for an inventory search to be valid.  This is important because the State has to show that the inventory search is routine. The reason this is a critical step is because “when an inventory is carried out in accordance with routine police procedures, there is an assurance that the intrusion will not exceed the scope necessary to fulfill these caretaking needs.” Rabadi v. State, 541 N.E.2d 271, 274 (Ind.1989).

Additionally, proof that the inventory search is routine requires more than a police officer’s word.  If the officer properly impounds your vehicle this could be your next defense.  This defense was addressed in Anderson v. State, 64 N.E.3d 903 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016).

In Anderson, following a lawful traffic stop, Anderson was arrested for an outstanding warrant, along with the fact that he was driving on a suspended license.  An officer with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department decided to perform an inventory search of the vehicle before it was towed to impound and in the process he picked up Anderson’s jacket which was heavy so the officer searched the pockets.  In one of the pockets the officer found a loaded handgun for which Anderson did not have a license to carry.  Anderson was subsequently charged with carrying a handgun without a license.  He filed a motion to suppress the handgun which was denied.  At trial, Anderson objected to the admission of the handgun but the objection was overruled he was convicted and sentenced.  On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals found that there was no evidence introduced at trial which showed that the officer followed IMPD’s procedure policy regarding towed vehicles.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeals found that the search of the jacket was unlawful and Anderson’s conviction was overturned.

As with any situation where an individual’s person or property is searched, the details are critical when dealing with inventory searches.  Therefore, if you or someone you know has been charged with a crime following a vehicle search, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC.  We are available any time at (317) 870-0019 or at