Officers arrested the defendant in his automobile, searched it and seized several items. The officers had the defendant’s automobile towed to a secure, locked impound lot. Eight hours later, an officer went to the impound lot and, without obtaining a warrant, searched the defendant’s automobile for a second time and seized additional evidence.
Whether a search conducted under the mobile conveyance doctrine, conducted after a search incident to an arrest and after the automobile was impounded and in police custody, violates the Fourth Amendment?
No. A warrantless search of an automobile impounded and in police custody conducted eight hours after a valid initial search is proper as a mobile conveyance search if the officers have probable cause.
In Michigan v. Thomas, the Court upheld a warrantless search of an automobile even though the automobile was in government custody and a prior inventory search of the car had already been made. That case specifically rejected the argument that the justification to conduct a warrantless search vanishes once the car has been taken into custody and impounded. The justification for the initial warrantless search did not vanish once the car had been immobilized. To conduct a mobile conveyance search, the government only needs to establish probable cause that the evidence sought it located in the mobile conveyance.
466 U.S. 380, 104 S. Ct. 1852 (1984)