Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun case involving what the prosecution called a valid inventory search. However, the court rejected the prosecution’s characterization of the police officers’ search of the defendant’s vehicle as an inventory search, suppressing the evidence found in the defendant’s car.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was pulled over by police for an unrelated violation. As the defendant pulled over, he parked his car on the corner. There was no indication that he illegally parked his car or that there was a limit on how long the defendant’s car was allowed to remain parked at the location.
However, the arresting officers decided to transport the defendant’s vehicle to the police station because they believed it was used in the commission of a crime. When the vehicle arrived at the police station, officers searched the car, finding a gun. The defendant was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree.
In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant argued that the gun was illegally obtained because the officers lacked probable cause to search his car. In response, the prosecution relied on the officer’s belief that the vehicle was involved in a crime and, in the alternative, that the search was a valid inventory search.
When police arrest a driver, they can tow the vehicle in certain situations. When a vehicle gets towed away, police are permitted to search it to document its contents. The reason for this type of inventory search is to prevent future claims that something in the car went missing once in possession of the police.
However, police cannot tow a vehicle every time they arrest a driver. To conduct a valid inventory search, police must show that the vehicle was illegally parked and that the inventory search was not premised on an intent to further a criminal investigation.
Here, the court first noted that there was no evidence suggesting that the defendant’s car was involved in any illegal activity. Thus, there was no basis for towing the car other than it being illegally parked. However, there was also a lack of testimony establishing that the defendant’s car was illegally parked. As a result, the court determined that the search was illegal, and any evidence recovered, as a result, must be suppressed.
Have You Been Arrested After Police Searched Your Car?
If you were recently arrested and charged with a New York gun crime after police searched your car, there may be ways to get the evidence suppressed. At the criminal defense law firm of Tilem & Associates, we represent clients facing all types of gun and drug offenses stemming from traffic stops. We command an impressive knowledge of state and federal search and seizure laws, which we use to help ensure our clients are not convicted for crimes stemming from illegal police activity. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, give us a call at 877-377-8666. You can also reach us through our online form.