After police in New York impound an automobile, according to most police procedures, officers will search the car in order to make an inventory of the car’s contents. The reason for the inventory search is to protect police against possible claims that contents of the impounded vehicle were taken or converted while the vehicle was in police custody.
The question presented here is what happens if incriminating evidence is found during the course of this routine inventory search? Specifically, can the evidence be used against the accused in a court of law?
Although, as noted above, the reason for the inventory search is to protect police against claims of theft, under New York law, any evidence that is incidentally discovered during the course of such a search is admissible against the accused, if the following three conditions are met: (1) the car must have been lawfully stopped; the purpose of the inventory search is to make a list of the items in the car and not merely an excuse or attempt to find contraband; (3) officers must follow established and written police procedures which were reasonably designed to satisfy the objectives that justify the search in the first place and limit the discretion of the officer in the field; and an actual inventory must be made of the items recovered.
If police recovered incriminating evidence, found through an inventory search, it is critical for the criminal defense attorney to exclude any evidence obtained illegally by filing a motion to suppress the evidence.