The defendant was arrested for DUI. During an inventory search of the car, the officer found a locked suitcase in the trunk. The officer opened the suitcase and found a garbage bag containing marijuana.
Whether a container found during an inventory search may be opened where there is no agency policy regarding the opening of containers?
No. Absent a routine agency policy regarding the opening of containers found during an inventory search, a container may not be opened.
An established routine must regulate inventory searches. This is to ensure that an inventory search is not a ruse for a general rummaging of the car in order to discover incriminating evidence. Policies governing inventory searches should be designed to produce an inventory.
In this case, there was no evidence of any policy on the opening of containers found during inventory searches. Therefore, absent such a policy, the inventory was not sufficiently regulated to satisfy the Fourth Amendment, and the seizure of the marijuana was unlawful. The Court also stated that if a standard inventory policy permitted officers to inventory the contents of locked containers, the inventory of such would be reasonable.
495 U.S. 1, 110 S. Ct. 1632 (1990)