NJ: Def was interrogated in DA’s office; inventory of her purse after lawyering up was unreasonable

Defendant was detained and being interviewed at the local DA’s office. She’d rummaged in her purse without restriction, and it was open on the table. She looked at her cell phone for the time and commented that she had to go pick up her daughter that afternoon. They wouldn’t let her go because of two outstanding warrants for something else. When she said she was considering lawyering up, they took her purse and inventoried it. The “inventory” of her purse was unreasonable. State v. Hummel, 2018 N.J. LEXIS 273 (Mar 13, 2018). Summary by the court:

2. An inventory search must be reasonable under the circumstances to pass constitutional muster. In Mangold, the Court explained that the propriety of an inventory search involves a two-step inquiry: (1) whether the impoundment of the property is justified; and (2) whether the inventory procedure was legal. Id. at 583. For there to be a lawful inventory search, there must be a lawful impoundment. Courts need only analyze the reasonableness of the inventory search if the impoundment is justified. Several factors are relevant to the reasonableness inquiry. They include “the scope of the search, the procedure used, and the availability of less intrusive alternatives.” Id. at 584. (pp. 13-14)

3. Under the first Mangold inquiry, the detectives’ impoundment of defendant’s purse was not justified. The detectives had not arrested defendant before seeking to impound her purse. Defendant kept her purse open and within her reach for the entire interrogation. She rummaged through her bag several times in front of the detectives. The detectives did not frisk defendant at any point during her detention. They sought to remove her bag from the interrogation room only after she asked for an attorney. Crucially, they asked defendant if she would rather examine the contents of her purse herself. It is clear that had valid safety concerns existed at the time they sought to impound her bag, the officers would not have given defendant the option to search her own purse. (pp. 14-15)

4. Even if the initial impoundment was justified under the first Mangold inquiry, the search would fail under the balancing test required by the second. The detectives initiated the search to find the $500 defendant claimed her purse contained. The scope of the search should have been limited to that $500. The State concedes that the departmental policy for inventory searches is unknown. There is no way then to determine whether the detectives’ search was executed according to any purported policy or practice. Finally, the detectives had reasonable, less intrusive alternatives available to protect them against false theft claims that would have simultaneously respected defendant’s constitutionally protected privacy rights. The inventory search exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement does not apply, and the detectives’ search was unconstitutional. (pp. 15-18)

5. The State concedes that the detectives did not conduct a “traditional” inventory search. The record reveals that nearly every aspect of the purported inventory search was not “traditional.” They did not formally arrest her that day, but rather let her leave and arrested her three days later. The Court remands to permit defendant to raise issues she has preserved before a PCR court, or withdraw her guilty plea and continue before the trial court. (pp. 18-19)

This entry was posted in Inventory. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.