– § IC 9-18-2-43 – Duties of law enforcement officer relating to unregistered or unlicensed vehicle.

(a) Notwithstanding any law to the contrary but except as provided in subsection (b), a law enforcement officer authorized to enforce motor vehicle laws who discovers a vehicle required to be registered under this article that does not have the proper certificate of registration or license plate:

(1)       shall take the vehicle into the officer’s custody; and

(2)       may cause the vehicle to be taken to and stored in a suitable place until:

(A)      the legal owner of the vehicle can be found; or

(B)       the proper certificate of registration and license plates have been procured.

(b)       Except as provided in IC 9-21-21-7(b), a law enforcement officer who discovers a vehicle in violation of the registration provisions of this article has discretion in the impoundment of any of the following:

(1)       Perishable commodities.

(2)       Livestock.

– IMPD General Order 7.3 – deals with towing (searching) vehicles.

Case Law

– Police received a call alleging that Δ had stolen a clock. Officer made contact with Δ in the parking area in front of the mailboxes at defendant’s apartment complex. The officer pulled his vehicle up to Δ’s vehicle and did not give Δ an opportunity to park his vehicle. Δ would have had to back up his vehicle to park it. The officer called for a truck to impound the vehicle. After the vehicle was towed to the towing company where police searched the vehicle. Drugs, a knife, and the stolen item were found in the vehicle. Δ moved to suppress the results of the search.  Automobile Exception: “The State argues that the automobile exception applies. . . The scope of a warrantless search of an automobile is defined “by the object of the search and the places in which there is probable cause to believe that it may be found. The scope of a warrantless search based on probable cause is no narrower–and no broader–than the scope of a search authorized by a warrant supported by probable cause. Probable cause to believe that a container in a vehicle contains contraband does not justify a search of the entire vehicle. A search must end once the police find the item for which they have probable cause to search.” Gonser at 949-950.  “[T]he record reveals that the methamphetamine was located under the driver’s seat and does not reveal where the switchblade knife was located. The record also does not reveal whether the methamphetamine and switchblade knife were located before or after the clock was located. Without this information we cannot say whether the scope of the search was proper under the automobile exception. Thus, the State has failed to meet its burden to show that the automobile exception applies. Gonser at 950.  Search Incident to Arrest: “Under the search incident to arrest exception, the initial arrest must be lawful, the search and arrest must be contemporaneous in both place and time and the scope of a search is limited to the area within the arrestee’s immediate control. A search is incidental to an arrest when it can be said that it is substantially contemporaneous with the arrest and is confined to the immediate vicinity of the arrest. . . . Unquestionably, when a person is lawfully arrested, the police have the right, without a search warrant, to make a contemporaneous search of the person of the accused for weapons or for the fruits of or implements used to commit the crime . . . . The rule allowing contemporaneous searches is justified, for example, by the need to seize weapons and other things which might be used to assault an officer or effect an escape, as well as by the need to prevent the destruction of evidence of the crime — things which might easily happen where the weapon or evidence is on the accused’s person or under his immediate control. But these justifications are absent where a search is remote in time or place from the arrest. Once an accused is under arrest and in custody, then a search made at another place, without a warrant, is simply not incident to the arrest. Here, Officer Fitch arrested Gonser and then had Gonser’s vehicle towed to the towing company’s building, where Officer Fitch conducted a search of the vehicle. Thus, the search incident to arrest exception does not apply to the facts.” Gonser at 950.  Inventory Exception:  “[T]he police may conduct a warrantless search of a lawfully impounded automobile if the search is designed to produce an inventory of the vehicle’s contents. The threshold question in inventory cases is whether the impoundment itself was improper. An impoundment is warranted when it is part of routine administrative caretaking functions of the police or when it is authorized by state statute. To show that the inventory search was part of the community caretaking function, the State must demonstrate that: the belief that the vehicle posed some threat or harm to the community or was itself imperiled was consistent with objective standards of sound policing, and . . . the decision to combat that threat by impoundment was in keeping with established departmental routine or regulation. Gonser argues that no evidence of police procedures was properly admitted. It is well established that we may not consider evidence or arguments not properly presented to the trial court. Here, the trial court held the suppression hearing on January 19, 2005. Thereafter, on January 25, 2005, the State filed a brief on Gonser’s motion to suppress. The State attached the Town of Shipshewana’s policy to inventory impounded vehicles as ‘Exhibit A’ to its brief on Gonser’s motion to suppress. However, the State failed to introduce and properly admit the policy at the suppression hearing and we will not consider it.” Gonser at 951. The motion to suppress should have been granted.  Gonser v. State, 843 N.E.2d 947 (Ind. App. 2006).

– Various law enforcement agencies were conducting a seat belt enforcement zone. Officers were stationed in two different locations. Officers on the east end of the zone were responsible for alerting officers at the west end of the zone of drivers who were not wearing seat belts. Officers at the west end of the zone would then direct the driver of the vehicle in question to pull over in order to issue a citation. Motorists were not randomly stopped. Rather, those motorists who were not wearing seat belts were stopped. Δ was observed driving without a seatbelt and was directed to stop in a parking lot. Δ was able to provide vehicle registration and a false name, but had no identification on him. He also had some difficulty remembering his birth date and did not know his social security number. The officer observed that Δ had a knife hooked to his pants. The officer asked Δ to stop out of the vehicle in order to remove the knife. When Δ got out of the vehicle, the officer noticed that Δ had a wallet in his back pocket. After the officer discovered Δ’s true name, Δ was arrested for false informing. The officer then learned that Δ did not own the vehicle, the license was not registered to the vehicle, and Δ was HTV. Δ asked the officer to let a friend drive the vehicle home. The officer impounded the vehicle. An inventory search of the vehicle revealed drugs. Δ moved to suppress arguing that the inventory search was illegal.  When an officer discovers a vehicle in the possession of a person other than the person who owns the vehicle and the person cannot establish the right to possession of the vehicle, the officer can impound the vehicle under IC 9-22-1-5.  The inventory search was proper.  Howard v. State, 818 N.E.2d 469 (Ind. App. 2004).

– Police stopped a vehicle that had drugs in the vehicle. The occupants of the vehicle stated that they were on their way to deliver the drugs to Δ. The police conducted a controlled buy from Δ. The seller gave Δ a bag with drugs in it. Δ stated that he did not have money on him, but that he would pay later. Δ put the bag in his truck. Officers approached to make an arrest. Δ attempted to flee in his truck, crashing into another vehicle in the parking lot. After arresting Δ, police towed his truck and performed an inventory search. $30 K was found in the truck. Δ moved to suppress the $30 K.  “In determining the propriety of an inventory search, the threshold question is whether the impoundment itself was proper. An impoundment is warranted when it is part of routine administrative caretaking functions of the police, or when it is authorized by state statute. To show that the inventory search was part of the community caretaking function, the State must demonstrate that the belief that the vehicle posed some threat or harm to the community or was itself imperiled was consistent with objective standards of sound policing, and the decision to combat that threat by impoundment was in keeping with established departmental routine or regulation.” Ratliff at 809-810.  Δ’s truck was obstructing traffic because it was not in a parking spot. It was also “abandoned” because Δ was being arrested. The impoundment and search of the vehicle was proper under the community caretaking function. Ratliff v. State, 770 N.E.2d 807 (Ind. App. 2002).

– Police responded to a shots fired call. Police observed Δ next to a vehicle placing a cylindrical object into the trunk. Δ was arrested for public intoxication. Δ has shotgun shells in his pocket. Police conducted an inventory search of the vehicle and found a shotgun in the trunk. The search was appealed solely on 4th Amendment grounds.  “Because the police are performing an administrative or caretaking function rather than a criminal investigatory function when they impound an automobile, the Court declared that the policies underlying the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement are inapplicable. Thus, the justification for an inventory search does not rest on probable cause and the absence of a warrant is immaterial to the reasonableness of the search.” Fair at 431. “[T]he test of constitutionality in inventory cases is reasonableness. . . In determining the reasonableness of an inventory search, courts must examine all the facts and circumstances of a case. . . First, the propriety of the impoundment must be established because the need for the inventory arises from the impoundment. Second, the scope of the inventory must be evaluated.” Fair at 431. “In light of these considerations, we hold that to prevail on the question of whether an impoundment was warranted in terms of the community caretaking function, the prosecution must demonstrate: (1) that the belief that the vehicle posed some threat or harm to the community or was itself imperiled was consistent with objective standards of sound policing, and (2) that the decision to combat that threat by impoundment was in keeping with established departmental routine or regulation.” Fair at 431.  “Before us we have an undamaged vehicle neatly parked in a relatively secure private parking facility. There had been no complaint from the owners of the property, and there was no unqualified driver in whose possession the car would be left if the officer did not act. The driver’s lawful possession of the vehicle was not in doubt. Instead, it was Officer Wager’s testimony that the vehicle required police attention because, if left where it was, ‘it might be damaged.’ This case, then, is typical of a distinct class of inventory cases in which the sole justification for impoundment is that the defendant’s vehicle, left unattended on private property as a result of a custodial arrest, will be exposed to theft or vandalism or might otherwise become a nuisance.” Fair at 433-434.  The search of the vehicle violated the 4th Amendment.  Fair v. State, 627 N.E.2d 427 (Ind. 2010).

– Officers observed Δ working at a restaurant. Δ placed something in his vehicle. Δ was arrested in the restaurant on a felony warrant. A dog alerted to the presence of narcotics in the vehicle. The officers searched the vehicle without a warrant and without Δ’s consent. Drugs were found in the vehicle.  4th Amendment – Search Incident to Arrest: Officers may search the “area into when an arrestee might reach. . . [because of] . . . the need to preserve evidence that might otherwise be destroyed and concern for officer safety.”  “Δ had already been secured and was not close to the car, so he presented no threat to officer safety. And because the arrest was for a different crime in another county, there was no reasonable belief that evidence of the ‘crime of arrest’ would be found. The exception for searches incident to arrest is therefore inapplicable.”  4th Amendment – The Automobile Exception: “The ‘automobile exception’ to the warrant requirement allows police to search a vehicle without obtaining a warrant if they have probable cause to believe evidence of a crime will be found in the vehicle. This doctrine is grounded in two notions: 1) a vehicle is readily moved and therefore the evidence may disappear while a warrant is being obtained, and 2) citizens have lower expectations of privacy in their vehicles than in their homes.”  “[T]he exception applies to vehicles that are readily mobile and are found in a non-residential area. The clear implication is that an operable vehicle found in a residential area may not be searched under this exception, but one located in a non-residential area, whether by reason of a police stop or not, is subject to the exception. The theory underlying the exception for vehicles is that the vehicle is being used for transportation. Put another way, a public parking lot is typically an interim destination, but a home’s driveway is often the end of that day’s travels.” “The automobile exception requires probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. The officers’ own observations of Hobbs entering the vehicle and placing something inside gave probable cause to believe the contents of the car were possessed by Δ. The subsequent dog sniff provided probable cause that the vehicle contained illicit.”  The warrantless search was justified under the automobile exception.   Article 1 § 11 – Reasonableness “[T]he officer’s actions here were reasonable. There was no disruption of Hobbs’s normal activities. At the time the search of his vehicle took place Hobbs was already under arrest for a different crime and would remain in custody whether the search took place or not. Once the dog alerted, the officers had a high degree of confidence that the vehicle contained evidence of a crime, and the same considerations underlying the federal automobile exception support permitting the officers to secure the evidence without delay.”  State v. Hobbs, 933 N.E.2d 1281 (Ind. 2010) .

– “When a vehicle is being used on the highways, or if it is readily capable of such use and is found stationary in a place not regularly used for residential purposes – temporary or otherwise – the two justifications for the vehicle exception come into play. First, the vehicle is obviously readily mobile by the turn of an ignition key, if not actually moving. Second, there is a reduced expectation of privacy stemming from its use as a licensed motor vehicle.” California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386 (US 1985).


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