CA10: Gun seized during inventory called off could not be kept by police

Defendant’s car was stopped at the driveway he was pulling out of. The car was going to be impounded, but the actual owner came out and said that it was her car. The gun found during the inventory was hers, too. Law enforcement keeping the gun under the inventory theory was unreasonable. The inventory was called off after the gun was taken. The gun was not contraband. Defendant has standing in the car he was permitted to drive. United States v. Chavez, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 1517 (10th Cir. Jan. 20, 2021):

We must decide whether a deputy sheriff’s warrantless seizure of a firearm from a car was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Before the seizure, the driver, Manuel Chavez, had driven the car at least a couple hundred feet up a private, dirt roadway and parked it outside his isolated trailer home. In a thorough order, the district court approved just one of the government’s asserted justifications for the seizure of the firearm (a .38 special caliber Amadeo Rossi S.A.). It ruled that the deputy’s seizure of the firearm was reasonable as part of an inventory of the car’s contents in preparation for impounding it. But during the inventory, a woman emerged from the trailer and satisfied the deputy that she owned the car. So the deputy left the car with her where it was parked, mere feet from her and the defendant’s trailer, but the deputy kept the firearm.

In denying an ensuing motion to suppress, the district court held that the deputy could lawfully seize and keep the firearm, even without admissible evidence that anyone had illegally possessed or used it. The court did not evaluate whether it mattered that the deputy never in fact impounded the car. We reject the district court’s denying the motion to suppress on inventory-impoundment grounds. Further, we reject all the government’s other asserted bases to validate the deputy’s seizing and keeping the firearm. We hold that the district court erred by denying the motion to suppress, so we reverse.

This entry was posted in Inventory, Standing. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.