What is an inventory search of a vehicle in Florida?
Most people are familiar with your typical search and seizure scenario - a cop comes to someone's door holding a piece of paper indicating a judge has granted them access to the home to search for some evidence. A search can also occur when a cop finds something unusual in a pat-down or when someone is arrested and the immediate area is searched for evidence.
One spot for potential search and seizure of incriminating evidence that many do not think of is when an "inventory search" is conducted by law enforcement. When someone is arrested for a traffic-related offense or is arrested on some other warrant while driving a vehicle, officers on scene must do something with the car. Most of the time, this means that they will call a tow truck to impound the car. Before they let the wrecker take the car away, by law and for civil liability purposes, they must create an inventory of the contents of the vehicle.
The taking of inventory of the vehicle means they must document what is in the car when it is towed so a person cannot come back and say that a cop stole their money or whatever else may have been in there. While this may seem reasonable to do, it can have some unintended consequences. The inventory search allows an officer to search around the car, which could result in some narcotics, paraphernalia, weapons, or stolen merchandise to be found. Anything that is found during this search can be admissible in court and can compound the charges that a person is arrested for in the first place.
It can be possible for a criminal defendant to "beat" an inventory search. For an inventory search to be valid the police must (1) have the authority to impound the vehicle in the first place and (2) they must follow the procedures outlined in their departments policy on inventory searches.
Issues will often arise when law enforcement impounds a car when there was no actual necessity that the vehicle be impounded. For example, the owner of the car is being arrested and instructs law enforcement that the passenger of the car is willing and able to take take the car home. If law enforcement decides to impound the car anyway (possibly so that they can conduct an otherwise impermissible "search" of the vehicle) than it can be argued that law enforcement lacked the authority to inventory search the vehicle as there was no necessity that it be impounded in the first place.
If you were arrested as the result of an inventory search, please call our office for a free consultation. Also, visit our Drug Crimes page were we have a tremendous amount of information related to defending drug possession and narcotics cases.