CA2: Second inventory search on the street was reasonable

Defendant’s car was inventoried by NYPD. After the first search, officers overheard defendant’s phone call that somebody needed to come and get the car “now,” and they surmised they overlooked something important. A second inventory was conducted, and the NYPD inventory policy didn’t even discuss the possibility [probably none do]. A second inventory was still reasonable. United States v. Williams, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 20262 (2d Cir. July 9, 2019):

Williams principally argues as to the second inventory search that it was impermissible for the detectives to conduct the second search at all, pointing out, at the start, that the Patrol Guide is silent as to the validity of multiple inventory searches. However, we have stated that “we do not think … every detail of search procedure must be governed by a standardized policy.” Lopez, 547 F.3d at 371 (emphasis added). For example, there need not be a standardized policy as to “the order in which different parts of [a] car are searched, or whether officers performing the search need to report the results on a standardized form.” Id. A police department’s procedures must simply be adequate to “safeguard the interests protected by the Fourth Amendment,” see id., so that officers are not allowed “so much latitude” as to whether, when, and how to search that inventory searches, in practice, become “‘a purposeful and general means of discovering evidence of crime.'” Wells, 495 U.S. at 4 (quoting Bertine, 479 U.S. at 376). Here, the second inventory search did not run afoul of this principle, even if not specifically provided for in the Patrol Guide.

As for Williams’s broader Fourth Amendment argument, the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that “the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is ‘reasonableness.'” Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403, 126 S. Ct. 1943, 164 L. Ed. 2d 650 (2006); see Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373, 381, 134 S. Ct. 2473, 189 L. Ed. 2d 430 (2014) (same); see also Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. 435, 447, 133 S. Ct. 1958, 186 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2013) (noting that the “‘ultimate measure of the constitutionality of a governmental search is “reasonableness”‘”) (quoting Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 652, 115 S. Ct. 2386, 132 L. Ed. 2d 564 (1995)). In the circumstances here, it was eminently reasonable for the detectives to conclude, as they did, that Williams’s own behavior suggested a need to go back and check their work in connection with the inventory search that they had just performed. Williams’s phone call caused the detectives to surmise, as Detective Latorre stated during the suppression hearing, that “there was something of value inside the car that [they weren’t] yet aware of,” so that “a second search of the vehicle was probably necessary” in order to complete the inventory. A-59. The fact that some piece of property may have been missed during the initial search did not make it less important to secure that property, to protect the police from claims of theft, or to ensure that the property be safeguarded if dangerous. Indeed, the need to ascertain that the inventory was complete and that all items in the car had been located was particularly acute in this case, given that police were likely to return the car to the rental agency, and “elemental reasons of safety” required that any dangerous instrument in the vehicle, such as the loaded weapon that they recovered, be located so as not to “fall into untrained or perhaps malicious hands.” See Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 443, 93 S. Ct. 2523, 37 L. Ed. 2d 706 (1973) (noting police have a community caretaking imperative to ensure that impounded automobiles do not contain revolvers or other dangerous items).

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