Search & Seizure of Impounded Vehicles
Within the context of a dui or other alcohol or drug related arrest through use of a motor vehicle, one must always be aware of the dangers of what are called “inventory searches” within the state of Indiana. Such a legally valid search will allow for police to use evidence found within a motor vehicle after one has been taken from the scene of a dui arrest. This type of search is permissible in the event that there is no one remaining left with the vehicle found in a lawful condition to drive the vehicle away from the scene of the stop.
In theory this type of inventory search is available to law enforcement as a way to inventory all items found within a vehicle for safekeeping. Once towed from the traffic scene, the vehicle subject to the dui stop will ultimately be transported to a tow lot where it will remain either until the completion of a criminal prosecution or its release is authorized to the registered owner prior to the conclusion of criminal proceedings.
In so doing, the owner of the vehicle and his or her personal items will be protected in the event that anyone with access to the vehicle is suspected of taking items from within it. The list is organized so as to allow for any and all items found within the unsecured areas of the driver compartment of a vehicle to be cataloged and recorded to help facilitate the organized return of the items found at a later date and time once the vehicle has been lawfully released to a registered owner of the vehicle.
Of course through many years of experience as a defense attorney, I take a far less naive stance on the true application of inventory searches and its continued use by law enforcement. Such searches, sanctioned and approved by former appeals to its continued use in Indiana, continue to yield a bounty of additional evidence that can be often used to charge one initially stopped for dui and/or the owner of vehicles they are driving, with countless types of additional charges not anticipated. Illegal drugs & unlicensed firearms are just a sampling of the types of additional crimes that can be directed at those taken away from a drunk driving stop, or who own the vehicles in question, where illegal items have later been found for lawful inventory search & seizure.
As a result, please know that when deciding to drive a vehicle within Indiana, should an arrest take place as a result of operating the vehicle, commonly assumed search and seizure protections requiring a search warrant may not be required to uncover additional items of evidence to charge you or the registered owner of the vehicle with additional crimes not anticipated.