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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > May 2013 > State v. Hullum, Eighth District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County), April 11, 2013

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State v. Hullum, Eighth District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County), April 11, 2013

Question: Can an agency search containers inside an impounded vehicle as part of an inventory search?
Quick Answer: Yes, but only if the agency has a specific policy that deals with searching containers inside vehicles.

Facts: Dominique Hullum was arrested for a hit-skip, and his vehicle was impounded. Prior to towing the vehicle, the officers conducted an inventory search. Upon opening the trunk, they discovered a backpack. They opened the backpack and discovered oxycodone, a bag of marijuana, and drug scales. Hullum then was indicted on drug trafficking charges. Later, the arresting officers testified that it was the policy of the agency to search the contents of an impounded vehicle, including all closed containers. At trial, the state admitted into evidence the agency’s written policy that “an inventory of the contents” of vehicles will be made whenever they are impounded. 
The Court of Appeals concluded that the policy was insufficient to authorize the search of closed containers in vehicles and the drug evidence should have been suppressed.
Why this case is important: In order to satisfy the Constitution, an inventory search must be done in good faith and in accordance with a reasonable standardized procedure or established routine. Further, if a closed container is to be searched, the standardized procedure must include specific policy dealing with closed containers.
In this case, the agency’s written policy dealt only with general searches, not with closed containers. Even though the impounding officer testified that they always searched closed containers, there was no specific agency policy requiring or regulating it.
Keep in mind: Check your agency’s policy on inventory searches. If it does not specifically mention closed containers (or if you do not have some other articulable policy on closed containers), a search of a closed container could result in suppressed evidence. If your agency wants to search closed containers during inventory searches, it should have a specific policy allowing it to do so.
View the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals website to view the entire opinion.