D.N.M.: Inventory was unjustified

It was apparent the officer wanted to search defendant’s car, so he devised a way to seize it, but it was without justification. Thus, the inventory was unreasonable. United States v. James, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82527 (D. N.M. May 16, 2019):

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Officer Babadi told another officer that he wanted to search Mr. James vehicle because he thought Mr. James was involved in narcotics trafficking, and he was going to try to get Mr. James to consent to a search. Officer Babadi also told the other officer that if he couldn’t get consent, he would just tow the car. Officer Babadi knew, of course, that he would be able to do an inventory search of the car if he towed it. When Officer Babadi was unsuccessful at getting Mr. James’ consent to search his car, Officer Babadi told the other officer that he would just tow the car and “go from there.” These comments suggest that Officer Babadi decided to tow Mr. James’ car so that he could search it, not for any legitimate community-caretaking reason.

The search itself supports this finding. Officer Babadi’s initial search of the vehicle consisted of a quick rummaging around, during which he seemed to be looking for whatever Mr. James had been hiding when Officer Babadi pulled him over. See Def. Exh. D 23:48-23:49. Once he found what he thought were illegal drugs and detained Mr. James, Officer Babadi resumed his search, but he still seemed to be rummaging around, looking for whatever Mr. James might have hidden, as opposed to doing a systematic inventory of the car’s contents. Def. Exh. D 23:53-23:54. When Officer Babadi found the gun, he said, “He was stashing the gun—that’s what he was doing!,” as if he finally found what he had been looking for. Def. Exh. D 23:54. Officer Babadi’s decision to impound Mr. James’ car was not lawful.

Because the decision to impound Mr. James’ car was not lawful, the subsequent inventory search of his car also was not lawful. See United States v. Pappas, 735 F.2d 1232, 1234 (10th Cir. 1984) (inventory search of car that was illegally impounded was also illegal). Thus, all the evidence seized pursuant to that search, including the baggie full of suspected narcotics, the cut-off straw, and the firearm, were “fruit of the poisonous tree” and must be suppressed. See id. (quoting Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 488, 83 S. Ct. 407, 9 L. Ed. 2d 441 (1963)). None of these items would have been found but for the illegal search. See id.

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