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.