May 24, 2018

Colorado Supreme Court: Seizure of Vehicle Not Justified as Exercise of Police Caretaking Function

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Brown on Monday, April 16, 2018.

Inventory Search—Impoundment.

The People petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgment reversing Brown’s drug-related conviction on the ground that his motion to suppress should have been granted. See People v. Brown, 2016 COA 150, __ P.3d __. The district court found that the contraband in question was discovered during an inventory search of defendant’s vehicle, the conduct of which was within the officers’ discretion according to the policies and procedures of the Aurora Police Department, even though they had already decided to issue a summons rather than arrest defendant for driving with a suspended license. By contrast, the court of appeals found that in the absence of an arrest, seizing defendant’s vehicle to provoke an inventory of its contents could not be justified as an exercise of the police caretaking function, and in the absence of any other recognized exception to the probable cause and warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment, violated its prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The supreme court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment. The record failed to demonstrate that seizure of defendant’s vehicle was justified as an exercise of the police caretaking function or was otherwise reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, regardless of local ordinances or police policies and procedures broad enough to grant the officers discretion to impound the vehicle of a driver merely summoned rather than arrested for driving with a suspended license.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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