What Is an “Inventory Search” and How Can It Affect a Sex Crimes Charge Against Me?
If the police lawfully impound your car, they have the right to conduct what is called an “inventory search” of its contents. Ostensibly, the purpose of an inventory search is to protect the police department against potential civil lawsuits if they lose any of the property contained within the car. However, if the police happen to discover any evidence of a possible crime while conducting an inventory search, such evidence is usually considered admissible in a criminal proceeding. The fact that an inventory search does not require a warrant is irrelevant, provided the police followed established department policies in conducting the search.
Florida Defendant Sentenced to 80 Years in Prison After Police Find Phone with Child Pornography
A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Isaac, illustrates how damning an inventory search can be for a defendant, particularly one charged with a sex crime. Police in Cocoa Beach, Florida, received an anonymous tip that a man–the defendant in this case–was sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl. The girl, her sister, and her mother were homeless. The defendant had invited them to stay in a recreational vehicle that he owned.
The tipster turned out to be the defendant’s girlfriend. She provided the police with pictures that allegedly depicted the defendant’s abuse of the girl. The picture had apparently been “taken by using one phone’s camera to photograph pictures displayed on a different phone’s screen,” according to the 11th Circuit’s opinion. The girlfriend also told the police where they could find the girl and her family.
After locating the family and taking the girl’s statement, the police arranged to meet with the defendant. The defendant arrived in his personal vehicle. The police proceeded to arrest the defendant and impounded his vehicle. A subsequent inventory search uncovered a cell phone, which appeared to be the same one depicted in the pictures that the girlfriend gave to the police. The police later obtained a search warrant for the car and the phone.
The phone contained several hundred images of child pornography. Federal prosecutors charged the defendant with three counts related to the production and possession of child pornography. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the phone, arguing the search was illegal. When the trial court denied that motion, the defendant stipulated to the facts and asked the judge to assess his sentence.
The defendant reserved his right to appeal, however, and before the 11th Circuit he renewed his objection to the search. He argued this was not a proper inventory search since there was no justification for impounding the car in the first place. Under the police department’s own policies, the defendant noted, impounding the vehicle of a person under arrest is only justified after “all reasonable efforts to provide the vehicle driver with alternatives to impoundment have been unsuccessful or impractical.”
Essentially, the defendant argued that the police should have given him a chance to contact someone to pick up his car after he was arrested. The trial judge said that would have been “impractical” under the circumstances, and thus the police impoundment was justified by department policy. The 11th Circuit agreed. The appellate court noted that the Cocoa Beach Police Department was “small” and “short staffed” on the night of the defendant’s arrest, and the defendant’s car was blocking another vehicle. Waiting for the defendant to call someone to come pick up his car was simply not a practical option, the Court said.
Contact a Tampa Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
Child pornography charges are no small matter. The defendant in the case described above received an 80-year prison sentence, which was the maximum penalty available under the law.
So if you find yourself in a similar situation, you need to work with an experienced Tampa child and internet sex crimes attorney who will zealously represent your interests in court. Contact the Faulkner Law Group, PLLC, today to schedule a consultation.