Evidence Found During Invalid Inventory Search Results in Overturned Conviction for Carrying a Handgun Without a License (Smith v. State, 18A-CR-3009)

Posted 1 year ago — Ooley Law Blog

The Defendant, in this case, was arrested for driving with a suspended license. During the stop, the police searched the vehicle and found a firearm. The defendant did not have a license to carry a firearm and was charged with carrying a handgun without a license. At trial, the State alleged that the search of the car was an exception to the warrant requirement because it was a valid inventory search.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the State failed to establish that the police officer’s decision to impound the vehicle adhered to established departmental routine or regulation when the police officer testified merely in conclusory terms as to the department’s policy and failed to specifically describe how the impoundment decision adhered to the department’s procedure. The Court of Appeals noted that “While we do not require evidence of the department’s written procedure, we do require more than conclusory testimony from an officer. An officer’s testimony provides adequate evidence of the department’s impoundment procedure if it outlines the department’s standard impound procedure and specifically describes how the decision to impound adhered to departmental policy or procedure—as opposed to an officer’s generalized assertion.

Here, the officer only provided conclusory remarks about the department’s “policy,” so the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court erroneously admitted the evidence obtained from the inventory search. As a result, the Court of Appeals vacated Smith’s conviction for Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license.