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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > February 2016 > State v. Leak, 2016 Ohio 154

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State v. Leak, 2016 Ohio 154

Question: Does the mere arrest of an occupant of a lawfully parked vehicle trigger police impoundment and a warrantless inventory or search of the vehicle?

Quick Answer: No. Officers must have a reasonable belief the vehicle contains evidence of the offense for which the suspect was arrested or the vehicle was impounded in accordance with a state statue or city ordinance and inventoried pursuant to an agency inventory policy.

Facts: In an attempt to serve a domestic violence warrant on Leak an officer was given a description of a vehicle Leak was purported to be in and his alleged location. The officer located the vehicle and observed Leak in the passenger seat. He ordered Leak from the vehicle and placed him under arrest, into handcuffs and in the back of the patrol car. After verifying the person in the driver’s seat had no warrants, all remaining occupants were removed from the vehicle. The officer called for a tow truck and conducted an inventory of the vehicle, finding a handgun under the passenger seat, which Leak admitted was his. Leak filed a motion to suppress the handgun and the Fifth District upheld the search. The Ohio Supreme Court reversed and excluded the evidence. First, the Court examined whether a search was proper incident to Leak’s arrest. Since there was no reasonable belief the vehicle contained evidence relating to the domestic violence warrant, the court considered the basis of the impoundment. In reviewing the revised code along with Mansfield Codified Ordinances, there were no provisions justifying the impoundment of the legally parked vehicle. Therefore, the accompanying inventory was unreasonable and the evidence was excluded.

Keep in Mind: The arrest of a recent occupant of a legally parked vehicle does not, by itself, establish reasonableness to justify a warrantless search of the vehicle the arrestee had been riding in.