Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona gun possession case where the defendant was arrested for shoplifting and, upon a search of his backpack, police discovered a firearm. The case presents an interesting and informative discussion regarding when police have probable cause to determine that someone has committed the crime of shoplifting.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant entered a store wearing a backpack. He placed the backpack into a shopping cart and began walking around the store. The store’s video surveillance system shows the defendant selecting a variety of items and putting them into his cart. He also places a number of those items back onto the shelf. At some point, the defendant took a pair of sunglasses off the rack, removed the tag, and placed them atop his head.

The video also showed the defendant select an energy drink and a package of condoms and place them atop his backpack, which was still lying inside the cart. At some point, the defendant walks behind some displays out of frame of the surveillance camera. When he gets back in the frame, the energy drink and box of condoms are no longer visible. The store security guard, who believed that the defendant placed the items in his backpack, called the police. The defendant was stopped at the point-of-sale, before he had paid for the items or left the store. Police arrested the defendant for shoplifting and searched his backpack, where they found an energy drink, a box of condoms, narcotics, and a gun.

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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.

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