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Name: U.S. v. Maddox
Case #: 09-30284
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 08/12/2010

A warrantless search of a car key chain not within the driver’s immediate control cannot be upheld based on a theory of search incident to arrest. Police stopped appellant for reckless driving, handcuffed and arrested him, placed him in the patrol car, and then searched the car and closed containers within. The officer found methamphetamine inside in a vial hanging from appellant’s key chain in the ignition. More methamphetamine and a gun were located inside a closed computer case. The trial court granted appellant’s motion to suppress finding that that the warrantless search could not be upheld as a search incident to arrest, as an exigent circumstance, or as an inventory search. The prosecution appealed, arguing the search of the key chain was a valid search incident to arrest, and the search of the computer case was a valid inventory search. The reviewing court rejected both arguments. In analyzing a search incident to arrest, the court considers whether the searched item was within the arrestee’s immediate control and whether post-arrest, but pre-search, events make the search unreasonable. Here not only was the key chain not within appellant’s immediate control, but there were also no subsequent events, like the discovery of a weapon on appellant’s person, which made the search reasonable.
The search of the computer case was not a valid inventory search. Inventory searches must be conducted according to standard police procedures. Under the applicable state law, the offenses for which appellant was arrested did not require vehicle impoundment. And while the officer suspected appellant was driving a stolen car, this was only a suspicion. Finally, the officer had other alternatives to impoundment because appellant offered to have a friend move his car.