110 S. Ct. 1632, 109 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1990), which holds simply that law enforcement agencies must place some limit on and guidance for the discretion of police officers conducting inventory searches:
Our view that standardized criteria, or routine, must regulate the opening of containers found during inventory searches is based on the principle that an inventory search must not be a ruse for a general rummaging in order to discover incriminating evidence. The policy or practice governing inventory searches should be designed to produce an inventory. The individual police officer must not be allowed so much latitude that inventory searches are turned into "a purposeful and general means of discovering evidence of crime."
110 S. Ct. at 1653 (citations omitted) (quoting Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 376, 93 L. Ed. 2d 739, 107 S. Ct. 738 (1987) (Blackmun, J., concurring)). But when the Court said it was "forbidding uncanalized discretion to police officers conducting inventory searches," id., it did not speak of standards for effecting seizures. Congress did all the speaking necessary on that subject when it declared in the statute that vehicles used to facilitate drug transactions are subject to forfeiture "and no property right shall exist in them." The statute contains no exception for jalopies. Whatever standards DEA adopted for its own administrative convenience in deciding which cars its agents should seize do not create substantive rights in favor of Darai. United States v. Craveiro, 907 F.2d 260, 264 (1st Cir.) (citing cases), cert. denied, 112 L. Ed. 2d 593, 111 S. Ct. 588 (1990).
The agent who testified at the hearing said he had been directed by his superior moments after Darai's arrest to seize the car. (Tr. 31, 76-77) He testified also that a book DEA uses to value vehicles showed the vehicle in question was valued at $ 3025 (Tr. 61-62), the valuation figure placed on the inventory form and one I find surprising when applied to a 1978 Oldsmobile with more than 83,000 miles on it, as Darai's car apparently was. (GX 3) Nonetheless, pursuant to the statute Darai had no privacy interest in the car itself once there was probable cause to believe he had used it to facilitate a narcotics transaction, as there was when it was seized. Even if the DEA regulation in question conferred "uncanalized discretion," Wells, supra, on agents to seize any vehicle used to facilitate a narcotics transaction, it would be difficult to view such a regulation as threatening Fourth Amendment rights when those rights protect only places and things in which people retain a privacy interest, and Darai had no privacy interest in the vehicle itself once it became subject to seizure.
To be sure, under Wells and its progenitors, Darai did retain a privacy interest in the contents of the vehicle, which were not necessarily subject to seizure simply because the vehicle was. Therefore, Darai had a privacy interest in the manner in which the inventory search was carried out. However, I do not understand Darai to have taken issue with the manner of the search or with the regulations directing how it was to be carried out. In particular, he does not dispute that an inventory search of a vehicle may include opening the trunk. Once the trunk was opened, the evidentiary character of the blades and other paraphernalia was obvious and they became subject to seizure based on probable cause.
For the above reasons, the motions by both defendants are denied.
Dated: New York, New York
January 31, 1992
Michael B. Mukasey,
U.S. District Judge
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