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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > March 2014 > Search and Seizure (Warrantless Searches): State of Ohio v. Harper

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Search and Seizure (Warrantless Searches): State of Ohio v. Harper

Question: If you don’t follow proper protocol when conducting an impound inventory, have you performed a warrantless search?
Quick Answer: Yes. If you don’t follow standard operating procedure for an inventory, a court may throw out any evidence you found.

State v. Harper, Ninth Appellate District, Medina County, Feb. 3, 2014
Facts: An Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper stopped a vehicle for a minor traffic violation and learned the driver, Isha Harper, had an outstanding warrant. The trooper requested assistance, placed Harper under arrest, and arranged for a tow truck to transport the vehicle to an impound lot. Before the tow truck arrived, the troopers performed a routine inventory search of the vehicle and discovered two kilos of cocaine in the trunk. Although the troopers had been filling out the inventory form, they stopped doing so after discovering the cocaine, despite Ohio State Highway Patrol policy that requires a trooper to complete the inventory even after finding contraband. Harper argued that the failure to properly complete the inventory made it a warrantless search. The court agreed and suppressed the evidence.
Importance: Inventory searches allow law enforcement to search a car without a warrant. But when an inventory is not done properly, the search is no good. Even small errors, like improperly filling out a routine inventory form, can make the difference between a significant drug arrest and an everyday traffic ticket. If you’re the one conducting the inventory, make sure you follow the rules to a T.
Keep in Mind: An inventory search is an administrative procedure done to protect the arrestee’s property; to protect law enforcement officers from claims of lost, stolen, or damaged property; and to protect officers from danger. Not only might a botched inventory render the evidence inadmissible, you also might subject yourself to suspicion if property is lost or damaged or even risk injury if something dangerous is overlooked.
More on Search and Seizure: Warrantless Searches
Emergency entrance. Responding to a call from a concerned citizen, you pull up to a house just as a woman is exiting. The woman quickly locks the door after seeing you and begins to walk away. You notice that she has blood on her hands. When she removes her sweater at your request, she reveals cuts on her arms. Meanwhile, your partner observes a man exit the back door of the house with blood on his hands. Neither one explains the blood. Fearing there may be injured people inside, you enter the house. Inside is a marijuana grow operation. Can you get the marijuana into evidence even though you didn’t have a warrant? Yes, you can do so based on the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement. The court in Methvin said the blood on both people, the hasty locking of the door, and the unwillingness to answer questions were sufficient to create a reasonable belief that someone might be inside the house who needed help. That reasonable belief created an emergency aid situation, which allowed the officers to seize contraband found inside. State v. Methvin, Fifth Appellate District, Richland County, Feb. 10, 2014
If you want out, you gotta let us in. A pedestrian is struck and killed by a car. Witnesses notice the right side of the windshield and right front fender are damaged. The driver seems frightened and shocked, telling the witnesses he thinks he struck a deer or that someone threw something at his windshield. You arrest the driver for operating his motor vehicle under the influence. The driver is on probation, so you call his parole officer, who sets up a blood sample draw. Is the blood sample admissible without a warrant? Yes. The court in Maschke admitted the sample without a warrant because one of the conditions of Maschke’s probation was an obligation to submit to drug and alcohol testing, so a warrant was not necessary. Find out if parolees in your area have similar requirements. State of Ohio v. Maschke, Fifth Appellate District, Morrow County, Jan. 27, 2014