On June 29, 2018 the Iowa Supreme Court decided a case regarding Mr. Ingram who was driving a vehicle that was not lawfully registered to him. Since the vehicle was not lawfully registered to him, police decided to impound the vehicle. As a result of the impoundment, the police inventoried the car which involved opening a black bag within the vehicle. In the black bag, the police found meth and a pipe. It should also be noted that the police did not obtain a warrant. before conducting the inventory search. As a result Mr. Ingram was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and possession a controlled substance. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled this inventory search to be unconstitutional.
The Court stated that police needed to explore alternative arrangements before deciding to impound a vehicle and conduct an inventory search since it concluded that persons have a substantial interest in "papers and effects" that may be found within the passenger compartment, glove compartment, or trunk of an automobile. The Court ruled that the officer must allow the person to "park and lock" their vehicle in a safe location or allow another person to come and pick up the vehicle. In this respect, the Court stated that impounded should only be explored if these options have been adequately explored.
Where impoundment is necessary, the Court went on to say officers must allow the person to get any items out of the vehicle that they need before impounding the vehicle. Importantly, and absent specific consent from the person the police must inventory closed containers. In other words, police cannot be opening closed containers/backpacks and searching for illegal items. If the officer decides to do this, the search is illegal and items found illegally will be suppressed. Essentially what this means is if the police conduct an illegal search, the State cannot prosecute you for any illegal items found during the illegal search.
The Court did go on to note that law enforcement agency's can implement a policy regarding warrentless inventory searches so that police do not have to get a warrant every time an impoundment occurs. But police still will not be allowed to search closed containers during an inventory search of a vehicle. The lesson learned in this situation is that it is best not to consent to a search of a vehicle if your vehicle is getting impounded.
If you have had your vehicle impounded after being charged with a crime, feel free to contact the Feld Law Firm to schedule a free consultation. An attorney would be happy to point you in the right direction. The Feld Law Firm is located at 1200 Valley West Drive, Ste. 208 West Des Moines, Iowa 50266.