[970 N.Y.S.2d 487] Randall D. Unger, Bayside, for appellant.
Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., District Attorney, New York City (Matthew T. Murphy and Christopher P. Marinelli of counsel), for respondent.
[992 N.E.2d 415] The issue on this appeal is whether the People met their burden of establishing a valid inventory search of defendant's vehicle. We hold that they did.
On June 7, 2008, defendant was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Pursuant to police
protocol, defendant and his vehicle were taken to the police precinct. An officer conducted an inventory search of the vehicle, during which he recovered a loaded .357 Magnum revolver and ammunition. Defendant was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree (Penal Law § 265.03 ) in addition to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 ).
Prior to trial, defendant moved to suppress the weapon as a result of an illegal search. At the suppression hearing, the officer who conducted the inventory testified at length. He explained that it was custom and procedure for the police to impound a vehicle if the person arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol is the registered owner. The officer, who had done " several, dozens" of inventory searches, testified that the purpose of the search was to inventory " everything" before the vehicle was taken to the impound lot.
Prior to completing the inventory, defendant's sister, a police officer, arrived at the precinct and the officer released some of the items from defendant's vehicle to her at her request. The officer recorded this in his memo book without specifically identifying each item. Defendant's sister then signed the memo book. The officer admitted at the hearing that no authority exists for an officer to remove property from a vehicle and give it to a family member, but explained that it was customary for him, and the New York City police in general, to give family members property, as a courtesy, in similar circumstances.
A copy of the relevant pages of the New York City Police Department's Patrol Guide was entered into evidence at the hearing. The officer explained that, pursuant to this procedure, the property recovered during the search that remained at the precinct was listed on a property voucher or in his memo book.
The officer then testified that, while searching the back seat, he noticed that panels were askew. He admitted that he looked into the panels because he was " looking for evidence of narcotics in a place where [he knew] criminals hid [ ] narcotics." Nothing was found. When the officer opened the trunk, he found that audio speakers and an amplifier filled the entire cargo area, and he retrieved a screwdriver to remove the equipment. He testified that because the speakers were not " factory-issued" the vehicle would not be accepted at the impound facility unless they were ...