Inventory Exception to the Warrant Requirement

I am often asked about what constitutes an unlawful search.  It is first important to understand that the United States and Michigan Constitutions protect a citizen from unreasonable searches and seizures.  Generally, a search without a warrant is per se unreasonable unless it falls under one of the exceptions of the warrant requirement.  This blog will discuss the inventory exception to the warrant requirement.
Pursuant to the inventory exception to the warrant requirement, an officer may conduct an inventory search of a vehicle if:

  1. The driver of the vehicle has been arrested
  2. The vehicle is being impounded
  3. The impoundment is lawful
  4. The search is in accordance with standardized department procedures.

In December 2013, the Michigan Court of Appeals discussed the above issue in People v. Chandler.  In that case, a driver was pulled over for driving the wrong way down a one-way.  He did not have a driver’s license, and the car was not registered in his name.  He was handcuffed and placed in the backseat of the car, and an officer called a tow truck to come get the car.  The officers conducted an inventory search and found a gun magazine and a holstered gun.
In Chandler, the defendant argued that the handgun found during the search should be suppressed because the warrantless search violated his right against unreasonable searches and seizures.  The Court found the inventory search was lawful.  The defendant was stopped for violating a traffic law.  He was subsequently arrested for driving without a license.  His car was then impounded because his passenger did not have a valid license to operate the vehicle.  The car was searched pursuant to department procedure.  Therefore, the search was lawful and the gun was not suppressed.
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