Inventory & Impound Searches

Search of an Impounded Vehicle

Police impound hundreds of cars every day in New Jersey for all kinds of reasons. If a search of motor vehicle is thereafter conducted, the reasoning often used by police is that they are doing an “inventory” of its content so that the property of the accused is properly accounted for and safeguarded. Issues obviously arise when the ensuing inventory search results in discovery of drugs, stolen property, a weapon or other incriminating evidence. The primary reason for this stems from the fact that police cannot automatically conduct an inventory of contents of a motor vehicle when it is impounded. If you have been charged with a crime as a result of impound search, our lawyers have the expertise to provide you with the opportunity to succeed on a Motion to Suppress so that the evidence cannot be used against you. One of the attorneys from our firm, the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall would be happy to review the facts of your Middlesex County, Union County, Passaic County, Morris County, Monmouth County, or case pending elsewhere in New Jersey, to determine the best strategy for invalidating the inventory search. A lawyer on our defense team is available now at 1-877-450-8301 to speak to you.

When Can Police Impound an Automobile?

Motor vehicles are routinely towed by police each and every day but that does not necessarily mean that seizure of the car or truck was proper. And if the police lack legal authority to tow and/or for impounding a vehicle, then an inventory search that follows is improper. Indeed, there must be authority for impoundment in the first instance and then the subsequent inventory search must be lawfully undertaken for drugs or other evidence to be used in a criminal case. Accordingly, the initial issue to be addressed in a case where evidence is obtained as a result of an inventory search is to assess whether the seizure or impound of the vehicle was valid under NJ Law. Police may tow and impound a vehicle under the following circumstances:

  1. The vehicle poses a danger to the public because of where it is parked or its condition;
  2. The vehicle is unregistered under N.J.S.A. 39:3-4;
  3. The vehicle is uninsured as required by N.J.S.A. 39:6B-2;
  4. The operator’s drivers license is suspended or revoked pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:3-40;
  5. The driver has been arrested for Driving While Intoxicated under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50;
  6. The vehicle is disabled, unattended or abandoned and blocks traffic under N.J.S.A. 39:4-136;
  7. The car contains evidence of a crime or possible crime.

What Procedure Do Police Have to Follow in Order for an Inventory Search to be Valid?

First and Foremost, the police must provide the owner of the vehicle with the opportunity to remove his or her property from the vehicle before undertaking an “inventory” of its contents. It is important to emphasize that the state’s Supreme Court has held that this right applies whether or not the driver has been removed from the scene or not. Consistent with State v. Mangold, the owner or valid user of an automobile must either consent or be given the opportunity to make his or her own arrangements to safe property in an impounded vehicle; absent police complying with this requirement, an inventory search is improper and any evidence seized as a result thereof is constitutionally inadmissible. It must be kept in mind, however, that this requirement only applies to inventory searches and not to situations where the police have an independent basis for conducting an Automobile Search.

If you were arrested and the police discovered evidence as a result of an inventory search, do not hesitate to speak to a lawyer from our firm. The attorneys on our defense team have years of experience contesting searches of impounded vehicles and would be happy to put their knowledge and skill to work for you. Lawyers are available immediately without obligations to discuss your charges in Middlesex County, Passaic County, Union County, Bergen County, Monmouth County, Ocean County, Morris County or elsewhere in the state. Give us a call anytime 24/7 at 1-877-450-8301.