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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > December 2015 > State v. Calvin, 2015 Ohio 4801

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State v. Calvin, 2015 Ohio 4801

Question: For purposes of inventory search, is there a distinction between vehicles being “towed” and vehicles being “impounded”?

Quick Answer: No. These terms are often used interchangeably in case law for purposes of inventory searches.

Facts: A trooper stopped Calvin for speeding and discovered he was driving under suspension and placed him under arrest. The trooper decided to tow the vehicle since Calvin was from out of state and there was no other reasonable alternative to safely secure the vehicle as it was located on the interstate. After calling for a tow truck, the trooper inventoried the vehicle, locating a plastic bag containing narcotics. At suppression Calvin argued that mere towing does not fall within the scope of the inventory exception to the warrant requirement. Rather, he argued that the only situations triggering this exception are those in which law enforcement takes “physical possession of the vehicle” (impoundment). The court held case law does not support a legal distinction between these two terms, finding that tow and impound are used interchangeably to refer to situations where law enforcement officials take control of a vehicle away from the driver/owner. The court noted no difference between a private tow truck/lot and a police-operated tow truck/lot. The property left in a vehicle would be subject to the same risk of being lost or stolen, and the dangerous items in the vehicle still potentially harmful, regardless of who retains custody.

Keep in Mind: Agency inventory policies often give officers discretion on whether to tow a vehicle. Be sure to review your policy and be able to articulate why you decided to tow a vehicle pursuant to your policy (i.e., maintain greater security, criminal investigation, etc.).