CO: Def was ticketed, but car was impounded without reasonable justification; suppressed

Defendant was issued a citation for a traffic offense, and then the officers decided to impound his car. There was no justification for the impoundment, and the search of the vehicle is suppressed. People v. Brown, 2018 CO 27, 2018 Colo. LEXIS 285 (Apr. 16, 2018):

[*16] At the suppression hearing, the prosecution offered no evidence to suggest that any of the factors or purposes for which a community caretaking exception has been recognized supported the impoundment of the defendant’s vehicle. There was no suggestion that the car was impeding traffic or threatening public safety and convenience where it was stopped, much less that it was inoperable or otherwise unable to be safely and legally removed by a licensed party, even if that had been the case. Quite the contrary, the prosecution relied entirely on the fact that the vehicle was impounded pursuant to departmental procedure, based on an Aurora ordinance granting police officers the discretion to impound a vehicle being driven by someone whose driver’s license had been suspended. To the extent the testimony of the officer who ordered the impoundment reflected any reason other than policy, it suggested only that the defendant was not offered an option to have the car left at the scene or towed because he had already demonstrated that he would drive on a suspended license.

[*17] Similarly, before this court, the People rely expressly on the assertion that seizing a vehicle in compliance with policies or procedures permitting as much is sufficient to bring it within an exception to the probable cause and warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment. Alternatively they assert that impoundment of the vehicle of someone driving on a suspended license necessarily falls within the purposes of police caretaking functions by preventing a presumptively unsafe driver from endangering the public. Because we have rejected both of these rationales and the People assert no other exception to the Fourth Amendment probable cause requirement, we must conclude that the impoundment of the defendant’s vehicle in this case and, therefore, its subsequent inventory violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

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