When can police inventory search a “live stop” car?
The Live Stop Program in Philadelphia authorizes police to impound any vehicle that is found in violation of the following statutes during a lawful vehicle investigation (police stop). Here are statutes:
- Driving unregistered vehicle prohibited
- Driving with a suspended registration
- Driving without a license
- Driving while operating privileges are suspended or revoked
Inventory Search is An Exception To A Search Warrant
Normally, when police take possession of a vehicle, they are authorized to conduct an “inventory search” of the car. An inventory search is an exception to the search warrant requirement. Keep in mind that police may search a car without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that the car contains some type of contraband (drugs or an illegal gun). Impounding a car for a Live Stop issue, however, wouldn’t provide them the necessary probable cause to search the car otherwise.
The purpose of an inventory search is not to uncover criminal evidence but to safe guard evidence taken into police custody in order to protect the police and the defendant. An inventory search of a car is permissible when, 1) The police have lawfully impounded a vehicle, and 2) When the police have acted in accordance with a reasonable standard policy of routinely securing the inventoried contents of the impounded car.
Live Stop & Permissible Inventory Searches
It’s important to keep in mind, that a Live Stop itself doesn’t allow police to conduct a warrantless search based on an inventory theory. There is case law in Pennsylvania (Commonwealth v. Lagenella), which states that an immobilized car isn’t in police custody and therefore can’t be searched until it is lawfully towed and stored. This means that police can’t search a car until it is actually ready to be moved by a tow truck and brought to the appropriate impound lot. There is a difference between the immobilization of a car and the act of towing it. When the car is immobilized and does not present a safety threat to anyone else on the road, the police aren’t authorized to search it. In this situation, the operator of the vehicle may appear before a judge within 24 hours from the time the vehicle was immobilized and that judge may issue a certificate of release, when, for instance, the person produces a valid license or proof of registration or insurance. Basically the police can only tow a car if it’s going to cause an issue with traffic or presents a hazard; otherwise they can simply immobilize it. This is a strong point for the defense because the prosecution may not elicit that the car presented a safety hazard or the officer may even admit that it didn’t present a hazard.
The inventory search exception to the search warrant requirement is a powerful tool for the prosecution and your criminal defense lawyer must be ready with arguments that question the circumstances surrounding the search. If police stop you, it’s important to keep in mind that you should never volunteer information, especially about the contents of either the vehicle or your personal belongings, like your purse or wallet.
Miranda Warning During a Live Stop
Remember, police aren’t required to give you Miranda warnings because you are not yet in police custody but the officer, in most cases, is simply conducting an investigative detention. It’s important to keep in mind that if police search you without probable cause, the evidence will more than likely be held as inadmissible. While police, in most pedestrian searches don’t need a warrant, they at least need reasonable suspicion to initiate and investigate a detention and a frisk of the suspect. For more information, please visit our free download section.
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