Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts gun case involving the legality of an inventory search that was performed by the arresting officers. Ultimately, the court concluded that the inventory search was not permissible because there was a passenger in the car that could have driven the vehicle from the scene, and the officers’ failure to give the driver that option rendered the search illegal.
According to the court’s opinion, police officers noticed a car with a defective rear brake light. The officers ran the tags, and discovered that the owner of the vehicle, the defendant, had an outstanding warrant. The officers pulled over the car.
The defendant was driving. The police officers asked both the defendant and his passenger for their drivers’ licenses, at which point the officers learned that the passenger had a valid license, had no warrants, and was not a suspect in any outstanding crime. The passenger was cooperative and did not appear to be under the influence.
Regardless, one of the police officers told the defendant that he would be arrested and his car would be towed. The officers did not offer the defendant the option of having his passenger take possession of his car. Instead, the officers ordered both men out of the car and performed an inventory search. During the search, the officer found a gun in the car. When the officer implied that both men were going to be arrested for the gun, the driver stated that the weapon was his. The driver was then arrested for possession of the firearm.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, as well as the statements that he made before and after his arrest. The defendant argued that the evidence was the fruit of an illegal search. Specifically, the officers did not need to conduct an inventory search because the defendant should have been given the option to allow his passenger to take the car.
The court agreed with the defendant, granting his motion. The court explained that officers must comply with a defendant’s wishes when there is an alternative to impounding a vehicle. Similarly, the court held that an inventory search of a vehicle is not permissible when there is a viable alternative to impounding the vehicle.
Here, the court acknowledged that the defendant did not request to have his passenger take the vehicle. However, the court explained that the burden to prove a viable alternative to impounding the vehicle rests with the Commonwealth, and not the defendant.
Have You Been Arrested after an Inventory Search of Your Vehicle?
If you have recently been arrested with a Massachusetts gun possession crime, contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy for immediate assistance. Attorney Murphy is a dedicated Boston criminal defense lawyer with extensive experience representing clients who have been charged with possessory offenses, such as drug and gun possession. He is well versed in Massachusetts and federal search and seizure law, and puts that knowledge into each of his clients’ cases. To learn more, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation today.