Inventory searches and ghosts
I ran across a case on inventory searches a few weeks back while doing the updates. As you know, several decades ago the US Supreme Court, in Opperman v. South Dakota, decided that vehicle inventory searches are an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. The case, the 3rd District's decision in State v. Flynn, presents a good summary of the law on that subject. Here's the money quote:
The Ohio Supreme Court has interpreted Opperman to require that, to be reasonable, a valid warrantless inventory search must be performed "pursuant to a standard practice and not merely as a pretext for an evidentiary search." Such a standard practice or policy need not be in writing so long as it is regulated by "standardized criteria or an established routine." However, a policeman's "bare conclusory assertion that an inventory search was done pursuant to police department policy is not sufficient, standing alone, to meet the state's burden of proving that a warrantless search was reasonable * * *. Rather, the evidence presented must demonstrate that the police department has a standardized, routine policy, demonstrate what that policy is, and show how the officer's conduct conformed to that standardized policy."
That's not quite as good as it sounds; for example, as Flynn notes, it doesn't require a copy of the policy to be introduced. That got me to wondering whether there was a case out there in which a search was thrown out because the police failed to comply with the policy.
Turns out there is: back in 1996, the Lakewood police arrested a guy and found a gun in the unlocked console. The trial court tossed it, and the court of appeals affirmed, finding that there was an "ambiguity" in the policy regarding whether containers should be searched. The Supreme Court, though, reversed it, finding that the policy, while prohibiting the search of locked containers, clearly permitted unlocked containers to be opened.
The name of the case was State v. Mesa.
Cleveland Indians fans will of course recognize the defendant as Jose Mesa, the pitcher who allowed the Tribe's half-century of failure to continue unabated: sent in to protect a 2-1 lead in the 9th inning of the 7th game of the 1997 World Series, he allowed the tying run to score in a game that the Indians would lose three innings later. But then, if you're an Indians fan, I didn't have to tell you all that, did I? Jose Mesa is all you had to hear.
By the way, in case you're wondering whatever happened to Jose, after saving 104 games for Cleveland -- but not the one that counted -- in his five years here, he was sent packing, only to resurrect his career elsewhere, saving 216 games for Seattle, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh since then. He signed with Detroit last month, so we'll have about a dozen opportunities this season to come down to the Stadium and remind him that we still remember him. And maybe ask him what he has in his car.