W.D.N.C.: Delay of search to protect def’s property rights isn’t a constitutional violation

The officers were solicitous of defendant’s property rights and, because his car battery was dead, they waited to get it open rather than pry open the trunk, which they could have done. Their respecting his property rights isn’t hardly a constitutional violation by their waiting. United States v. Caldwell, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8518 (W.D. N.C. Jan. 18, 2018):

In addition, the Court has liberally read defendant’s memoranda and listened to the arguments of his counsel. Defendant may well be arguing that by obtaining a search warrant the police somehow waived or forfeited their ability to later inventory the vehicle when it arrived at the impound lot. The Court cannot find any case law that would support that theory. In addition, such a theory, if adopted by courts, would penalize the police for being exceptionally careful in the early stages of an investigation. Not unlike the situation in Gastiaburo, police can later develop information that will cause them to go back and look in places they did not think to look before while the vehicle is still impounded. Further, unforeseen circumstances such as a dead battery may make search of electronically controlled compartments impossible or impractical during an initial search be it with a warrant or for inventory. In this case, it appears that the police wanted to search the trunk on the night of the robbery, but were unable to do so because the battery was dead, which prevented them from remotely opening the trunk lid. While the police could have justifiably pried open the trunk under the warrant, it appears that CMPD elected not to harm the vehicle and made their return. The fact that they did not conduct an inventory search until 12 days later (or figure out that they could do an inventory search), does not raise Fourth Amendment concerns.

As there is no constitutional interest served in penalizing law enforcement for being overly protective of defendant’s rights in the early stages of the investigation, this court can also see no reason for penalize the police for being careful not to damage a car in the process of a search.

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