The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lawrence M. McKENNA, D.J.
Defendant David Messina moves for an order suppressing all physical evidence seized during an inventory search of his rental vehicle on March 22, 2008, in Woodbury, Minnesota. The Government has asserted that the search of the vehicle was permissible as a valid inventory search following impoundment of the vehicle, while the defense contends that both the impoundment and the subsequent search were improper and that all of the evidence obtained as a result of the search should be suppressed.
The Court held an evidentiary hearing on December 22, 2008.
It is well recognized in Supreme Court precedent that, when law enforcement officials take a vehicle into custody, they may search the vehicle and make an inventory of its contents without need for a search warrant and without regard to whether there is probable cause to suspect that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of criminal conduct. This is because "[t]he policies behind the warrant requirement are not implicated in an inventory search, nor is the related concept of probable cause." Such a search is not done to detect crime or to serve criminal prosecutions. It is done for quite different reasons: (1) to protect the owner's property while it is in police custody; (2) to protect the police against spurious claims of lost or stolen property; and (3) to protect the police from potential danger. The service of these objectives is wholly independent of whether the contents of the car figure in any way in a criminal investigation or prosecution.
United States v. Lopez, 547 F.3d 364, 369-70 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 371 (1987)) (other citations omitted).
The Supreme Court, having recognized the danger to privacy interests protected by the Fourth Amendment if officers were at liberty in their discretion to conduct warrantless investigative searches when they suspected criminal activity, which searches they would subsequently justify by labeling them as "inventory searches." ... has stressed the importance, in determining the lawfulness of an inventory search, that it be conducted under "standardized procedures."
Id. at 370 (quoting Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1, 4 (1990), and Bertine, 479 U.S. at 374, n.6) (other citations omitted).
The Fourth Amendment does not permit police officers to disguise warrantless, investigative searches as inventory searches. However, the Supreme Court has not required an absence of expectation of finding criminal evidence as a prerequisite to a lawful inventory search. When officers, following standardized inventory procedures, seize, impound, and search a car in circumstances that suggest a probability of discovering criminal evidence, the officers will inevitably be motivated in part by criminal investigative objectives. Such motivation, however, cannot reasonably disqualify an inventory search that is performed under standardized procedures for legitimate custodial purposes. Under the Supreme Court's precedents, if a search of an impounded car for inventory purposes is conducted under standardized procedures, that search falls under the inventory exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment, notwithstanding a police expectation that the search will reveal criminal evidence. If good faith is a prerequisite of an inventory search, the expectation and motivation to find criminal evidence do not constitute bad faith.
Id. at 372 (citations omitted).
Defendants David Messina and Thomas Alexander were arrested by Woodbury police officers on March 22, 2008, at Sportsman's Warehouse, a store in Woodbury, for shoplifting.
Police Officer Jeffrey Gottstein, called by the government, was the only witness to testify at the suppression hearing. He responded to the request of the officers who had arrested the defendants and, initially, tried to assist in determining whether ...