CA9: Compliance or not with inventory procedure is a part of totality of circumstances; here they were investigating

Compliance or not with inventory procedure is a factor in the totality of circumstances. Here, the totality showed that the officers were investigating, not just inventorying. Denial of suppression reversed. United States v. Anderson, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 10708 (9th Cir. May 2, 2024) (en banc, 6-5). Syllabus by the court:

The en banc court reversed the district court’s denial of a motion to suppress a firearm found during a warrantless search of the defendant’s truck in a case that presented the question whether an officer’s failure to comply with governing administrative procedures is relevant in assessing the officer’s motivation for conducting an inventory search.

The primary question was whether the deputies’ deviation from the governing inventory procedure indicates that they acted in bad faith or solely for investigative purposes. The en banc court held that an officer’s compliance (or as is the case here, non-compliance) with department policy governing inventory searches is part of the totality of circumstances properly considered in determining whether a search satisfies the requirements of the inventory-search exception to the warrant requirement.

Based on the circumstances presented here, the en banc court concluded that the deputies who searched the defendant’s truck acted solely for investigatory reasons, and that the warrantless search therefore violated the Fourth Amendment.

Concurring, Judge Mendoza agreed with the majority’s finding that the deputies’ inventory search violated the Fourth Amendment. Writing separately to address an issue not reached by the majority, Judge Mendoza would reverse the district court’s decision on the additional ground that the deputies lacked a valid community caretaking justification to impound the truck.

Dissenting, Judge Bress, joined by Judges Callahan, Ikuta, Owens, and VanDyke, wrote that the majority distorts the legal framework for inventory searches, contravenes decades of Supreme Court and circuit precedent, and turns hairsplitting distinctions into constitutional rules. Judge Bress wrote that although under settled law the validity of an inventory search depends on whether officers acted in bad faith or for the sole purpose of investigation, the majority instead holds that officers violated the Constitution because they did not follow the court’s hyper-technical rules for filling out forms—which the deputies here had to do in the middle of the night after lawfully stopping a career criminal.

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