Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York drug case discussing the concept of an inventory search. An inventory search is performed by police officers to properly determine the contents of the item searched. Inventory searches should not be used for the purpose of discovering evidence of a crime, but instead may only be used for a non-investigatory purpose.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, law enforcement personnel were made aware that the defendant would be driving through a certain location one night to transport drugs. New York State Troopers were directed to stop and search the particular vehicle if they saw it, and that night, the State Troopers stopped the vehicle on the highway, arrested the defendant and her co-defendant, and recovered a large quantity of cocaine from the vehicle. The State Troopers did not have a warrant to stop and search the vehicle. The defendant was convicted of criminal possession of a controlled substance and subsequently filed a motion to suppress the cocaine that had been recovered from her vehicle. The lower court denied the motion and the defendant appealed.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the county court should have granted the motion to suppress the physical evidence recovered from the vehicle because the State failed to sustain their burden of proof that sufficiently established a valid reason for stopping the vehicle or a valid reason for searching it. The appellate court agreed, holding that the prosecution did not meet the burden of proof required to rely on fellow officer exception to justify the vehicle stop. At a suppression hearing, the prosecution bears the burden of proving that the officer who imparted information had probable cause to act and thus had either directly participated in the transaction or observed it. Here, an unidentified member of the county drug task force advised a trooper about the vehicle, and it was passed on to other troopers to conduct the stop but there was no information at the suppression hearing indicating how the county drug task force member learned there were drugs in the vehicle.