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Arizona Inventory Searches and the Concept of Inevitable Discovery

As this blog has discussed on numerous occasions, police officers must generally have a warrant to conduct a search. However, there are some exceptions to the warrant requirement allowing police officers to conduct a search without a warrant. One exception to the warrant requirement deserves more attention than it gets is the inventory-search exception.

In certain situations, police officers are required to conduct an inventory search of a motorist’s vehicle. Most often this is when the vehicle is going to be towed; however, an inventory search is also required when a motorist asks officers to leave their vehicle locked and legally parked. The stated rationale behind requiring officers conduct an inventory search is to ensure that the motorist’s belongings are properly logged before separating the owner from their vehicle. This way, police protect themselves from accusations that property went missing after they seized a car.

Practically speaking, an inventory search may occur anytime someone is pulled over by police and then arrested. This may be due to an Arizona DUI charge, an outstanding warrant, or some other reason that may have nothing to do with the vehicle. However, when police arrest a driver for whatever reason, the police must determine what to do with the vehicle. If there is no other responsible adult in the car, the vehicle will often be towed. In some cases, police may allow a motorist to leave the vehicle in a legal parking spot.

Even if police have no reason to believe that there is any contraband in a vehicle, they can conduct an inventory search. Under state and federal case law, inventory searches do not trigger the 4th Amendment’s privacy concerns, and therefore inventory searches are not legally “searches.” Thus, if anything is found during an inventory search of a vehicle, it will not likely be suppressible unless the defendant can show that police did not follow protocol when conducting the inventory search or that the basis for the stop was illegal.

A related concept is that of inevitable discovery. The inevitable discovery doctrine states that an item which was seized in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights should not be suppressed if it would have been discovered absent the officer’s illegal conduct. So, if officers conduct an illegal search of a vehicle and discover contraband, the contraband may not be suppressible if the officers would have found the contraband during a subsequent inventory search of the vehicle.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Crime?

If you have recently been arrested for an Arizona drug crime after police officers searched your vehicle, you should call Attorney James E. Novak. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Arizona criminal defense attorney with decades of experience representing clients charged with serious Arizona felony offenses, including Arizona gun crimes. Attorney Novak has advanced knowledge of search and seizure law, and is prepared to put his knowledge to use in your case. To learn more, call 480-413-1499 to schedule your free consultation today.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Award Winning Blog:

Arizona Appellate Court Upholds Search Based on Defendant’s Consent to Search Car, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, February 8, 2019

Arizona’s Self Defense and Stand Your Ground Laws, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, February 19, 2019

Can Arizona Police Stop Someone for Looking Suspicious?, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, January 28, 2019