Wednesday, February 23, 2011

DUI Appeal of the Day (DAD) - Illegal Inventory Search of Vehicle

In Kilburn v. State of Florida, --- So.3d ----, 2011 WL 589686 (Fla.App. 1 Dist.), the defendant was arrested for DUI. Pursuant to placing the driver and sole occupant into custody, and because the vehicle was in an unsafe place, the vehicle was impounded and towed. As part of the impoundment process, the deputy conducted an “inventory search” of the truck. The deputy testified that Sheriff's Office policy required an inventory search to be done whenever a vehicle is towed, but that there were no standardized criteria or procedures for conducting such a search. During the search, the deputy found marijuana (less than 20 grams) and pills that turned out to be alprazolam and hydrocodone. Kilburn was charged with possession of these drugs in addition to the felony DUI charge. On appeal, the defendant claims that his motion to suppress based upon an illegal search should have been granted. The appeals court agreed. The court first found that the impoundment itself was legal. The court discussed the general law applicable to inventory searches:

A warrantless search is per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment subject to a few well-defined exceptions. See Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 454-55 (1971). The state has the burden to prove that an exception to the warrant requirement applies. See Hilton v. State, 961 So.2d 284, 296 (Fla.2007). Here, the state relied on the exception that allows law enforcement to conduct an inventory search of an impounded vehicle. See Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 371 (1987) (observing that “inventory searches are now a well-defined exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment”); South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364 (1976) (discussing the justifications for inventory searches of impounded vehicles and explaining that federal and state courts have consistently held that inventory searches conducted pursuant to standard police procedures are reasonable).

In order for this exception to apply, the inventory search must be “conducted according to standardized criteria.” FN3 State v. Wells, 539 So.2d 464, 468 (Fla.1989) (quoting Bertine, 479 U.S. at 374 n. 6), aff'd by Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1 (1990). The requirement for standardized criteria serves to limit police discretion in determining the scope of the search and ensures that the police will not abuse the exception and use the inventory search as a subterfuge for a criminal investigatory search. Id. at 469; see also Rolling v. State, 695 So.2d 278, 294 (Fla.1997) (explaining that the test for determining the validity of an inventory search is one of reasonableness and “[t]he reasonableness of a purported inventory search is dependent upon it being a true good-faith inventory search and not a subterfuge for a criminal, investigatory search”).
However, even though impoundment was lawful, the court found the actual search invalid. The court stated:

"Here, the trial court did not make any findings regarding the existence of, or the deputy's compliance with, standardized criteria in conducting the inventory search of Kilburn's truck. Although the deputy testified that it was standard Sheriff's Office policy to conduct an inventory search whenever a vehicle was towed, he also testified that there were no standardized criteria for performing such a search. Additionally, the state did not present any evidence that it was standard Sheriff's Office policy to open closed containers found during the search, such as the pill bottle in Kilburn's truck where the drugs were found. Accordingly, under these circumstances, the trial court erred in denying Kilburn's motion to suppress the drugs found in his truck. See Wells, 539 So.2d at 469 (reversing denial of motion to suppress based upon the absence of a standardized policy requiring the opening of closed containers found during a legitimate inventory search); Beezley v. State, 863 So.2d 386 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) (reversing and remanding for discharge because trial court should have granted dispositive motion to suppress where no indication that police conducted inventory search according to standardized criteria); Patty v. State, 768 So.2d 1126 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000) (directing granting of motion to suppress where state failed to present evidence of standardized criteria used in inventory search); Roberson v. State, 566 So.2d 561 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990) (holding that search of closed can was illegal where evidence did not show that it was standard procedure to open closed containers)."
Because the motion to suppress was dispositive to the drug possession charges, the appeals court remanded with directions for the trial court to discharge the defendant on that count.

Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!

No comments:

Blog Archive