As officer’s detain people, often they take personal property into custody and store it for safekeeping. This process can produce criminal evidence.

People v. Gipson

786 N.E.2d 540 (Ill. 2003).


“Whether a policy requiring the police to inventory items of value is sufficient to allow the openings of closed containers if the policy does not specifically mention closed containers.”


Officers are free to conduct a warrantless search to take inventory in accordance with inventory search policies. These policies can be pretty broad and still constitutional.


The testimony of the policy is valid and the search did not extend beyond the scope of the policy.


When an officer observed a cracked windshield, he ran the license plate number and discovered the driver had a revoked license. After pulling over the driver and confirming he was the owner, the officer called a tow company to tow the vehicle and conducted a routine inventory search to (1) protect the owner’s property, (2) protect the police against claims of lost property, and (3) to protect the police from danger. During the search, the officer discovered contraband located in a place where the policy encouraged the search to be conducted.

Later, during the hearing on the motion to suppress, the officer was called to testify at trial. The policy was not produced during this testimony, only the words of the officer sharing what he knew about the policy. The defendant provided no rebuttal testimony.


After the defendant has established a prima facie case (a warrantless search occurred), the state must provide a defense (the search was a routine tow inventory search). Here, the state provided a defense by producing testimony about a policy. This testimony was not rebutted and therefore will stand. Further, the policy allowed officers to look in the trunk and passenger locations for “valuables.” As the officer was searching, he came across a closed container that might contain valuables. So, he opened it up—within the realm of what the policy permitted.

Additional Notes

An inventory search is an exception to the warrant requirement where an officer conducts an inventory of contents for the purposes listed above.

To conduct an inventory search, the state needs to show: (1) a policy exists for the inventory (which can be broad), (2) valid impoundment and procedure, (3) the purpose was done for inventory and not as a pretext to look for crimes.

Essentially, the search can be challenged if there are no procedures (using Wells) or if the purpose is inappropriate (using Bertine).


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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