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Name: U.S. v. Johnson
Case #: 15-30222
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 05/14/2018

District court erred in denying defendant’s motion to suppress where police officers’ subjective purpose in conducting warrantless administrative search was to find evidence of a crime. Portland police arrested Johnson on an outstanding warrant and conducted an inventory search of his car prior to having it towed. Contraband was located in the car. Johnson was convicted of drug trafficking and appealed. Held: Reversed. As an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, police may impound and search a car in conformance with standardized procedures of the police department and for community caretaking purposes. The purpose of the search must be non-investigative; it must be conducted on the basis of something other than suspicion of criminal activity. Generally, officers’ subjective motivations for a search are irrelevant to a Fourth Amendment inquiry. However, administrative searches conducted without individualized suspicion, such as drunk-driving checkpoints and vehicle inventory searches, are an exception to this rule. Thus, a court must inquire into an officer’s purpose in conducting a stop or search without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, where the search was justified pursuant to an administrative search doctrine, and the defendant presents objective evidence that the officer’s subjective purpose was investigation of a crime. The question is whether the search or seizure would have occurred absent the impermissible motive. Here, the officers explicitly admitted their evidentiary motives behind the search of the car, which is sufficient to conclude the warrantless search was unreasonable and not justified under the inventory-search doctrine.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: