Search & Seizure Commentary

Because it is the act of impoundment that gives rise to the need for and justification of the inventory search, the threshold inquiry when determining the reasonableness of an inventory search is whether the impoundment of the vehicle was proper at its inception. Many courts have sidestepped the constitutional question of reasonableness and merely asked whether a given vehicle is subject to impoundment under state statute, local ordinance, or a police department’s internal policy.  A conscientious analysis is required in any inventory search in order to reveal its true motive. Often the officer’s own reports and actions (sometimes even shown on the dashcam video) will belie that it was a true inventory; actually the inventory was only an excuse to search for criminal evidence. It varies from court to court: some know that inventory is a pretext for a criminal search and attempt to rein in the police, but others do not.