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Shaw v. State – playing charades – when an inventory search is just pretext for an illegal seach

Shaw v. State, A13A1332, November 11, 2013. The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed Defendant Dustin Shaw’s motion to suppress marijuana found in his glove compartment as a result of an illegal search incident to arrest under the guise of a vehicle inventory search by the City of Elberton Police.  Dustin Shaw was stopped after a police officer recognized him and realized that he had an outstanding warrant for domestic violence. There was no traffic violation or other crime suspected. After Shaw was cuffed and placed in the patrol car, he conducted a search incident to arrest and found marijuana in the glove box. At some time later, the Officer listed the discovered contraband on a departmental inventory form. The stop was made at 10:38 pm.  At 10:45 pm the Officer was notified that Shaw’s mother was on her way to pick up the car.

The Appellate Court found that Contrary to the ruling of the Elbert County trial court Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009) and New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981) do not authorize a vehicle search incident to arrest after the arrestee is secured and can not reach the interior of the vehicle. There was no evidence that Defendant’s vehicle was parked in a manner that made it a traffic hazard or that he was given an opportunity to have the vehicle removed by a friend or family. An inventory search must be reasonable within the meaning of the 4th Amendment and can not be a pretext for an illegal search. In this case, the vehicle was not in any way related to the domestic violence warrant and so no search incident to arrest was justified. Further, the vehicle was impounded in less than 17 minutes after police were notified that Shaw’s mother was on the way to pick up the vehicle. The Court found that both 15 minutes and 20 minutes were not unreasonable times for law enforcement to wait for someone to pick up a vehicle before impounding. See Carlisle v. State, 278 Ga. App. 528 (2006)(20 minutes)Gooden v. State, 196 Ga. App. 528(1990)(15 minutes).

Consequently, the State failed to show that impounding Shaw’s vehicle was reasonably necessary as a matter of fact and the trial court’s ruling was therefore clearly erroneous as an inventory search must be reasonable under the 4th Amendment. Playing Charades does not satisfy the 4th Amendment in Georgia vehicle inventory searches.

-Author: George Creal