Officers arrested the defendant for driving under the influence of alcohol. They called a tow truck, searched the defendant’s car and inventoried its contents in accordance with agency procedure. An officer opened a closed backpack in which he found a controlled substance, paraphernalia, and a large amount of cash.
Whether the government can enter a closed container during an inventory?
Yes. A warrantless inventory search of an impounded vehicle may include places where personal items can be found, including a search of the contents of closed containers found inside the vehicle.
Inventories are a well-defined exception to the warrant requirement. However, two conditions must be met before an inventory search of an impounded vehicle is lawful. First, the officers must act in good faith; that is, they were not conducting the inventory to advance a criminal investigation. Second, the officers must follow standardized procedures so that the searching officer does not have unbridled discretion to determine the scope of the search.
In this case, the officers were responsible for the property taken into custody. By securing the property, the officers were protecting the property from unauthorized access. Also, knowledge of the precise nature of the property helped guard against claims of theft, vandalism, or negligence. This knowledge also helped to avert any danger to the officers or others that may have been presented by the potential danger of the property.
479 U.S. 367, 107 S. Ct. 738 (1987)