People v. Krezen

Decision Date30 December 1986
Docket NumberNo. 76631,76631
Citation427 Mich. 681,397 N.W.2d 803
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Sandra Lee KREZEN, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Louis J. Caruso, Solicitor Gen., David H. Sawyer, Kent County Pros. Atty., Timothy K. McMorrow, Chief Appellate Atty., Grand Rapids, for plaintiff-appellant.

George S. Buth, Grand Rapids, for defendant-appellee.

BOYLE, Justice.

In this case, we are asked to decide if evidence obtained from the defendant's car during an inventory of its contents after impoundment was admissible. The car was impounded by the police after the defendant was arrested by the Grand Rapids Police Department at the Kent County Airport. The Police had been alerted by authorities in San Diego, California, that the package picked up by the defendant contained cocaine. The car was parked by the air freight office and the defendant's purse was left on the front seat of the car. The trial court in this case found the evidence admissible, but the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and remanded for a new trial on the ground that the evidence was unlawfully obtained in an improper impoundment.

We affirm the trial court's determination that the impoundment and inventory of Sandra Krezen's car did not violate the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and that therefore the cocaine found in her purse consequent to the inventory was validly admitted into evidence. The impoundment in this case was in accord with departmental procedures, the departmental procedures were within the constitutionally mandated power of the municipality, and no violation of the state or federal constitution occurred. The decision of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the trial court's admission of the evidence obtained during the inventory of Krezen's car is reinstated.

I. The Federal Constitution Is Not Violated by the Police Impoundment and Inventory of Krezen's Car.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

In South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 96 S.Ct. 3092, 49 L.Ed.2d 1000 (1976), the United States Supreme Court upheld an inventory of a lawfully impounded vehicle. 1 The police inventoried the car according to standard procedure, after observing a "number of valuables inside the car" in plain view. Id., pp. 375-376, 96 S.Ct. at p. 3100. The inventory was seen as a caretaking function rather than an investigative search. A majority of the Court found that the police conduct 2 was not unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. In determining whether the warrantless inventory in Opperman was unconstitutional, the Court looked "to all the facts and circumstances of this case," Cooper v. California, 386 U.S. 58, 59, 87 S.Ct. 788, 789, 17 L.Ed.2d 730 (1967), to determine that the police conduct was not "unreasonable":

"The inventory itself was prompted by the presence in plain view of a number of valuables inside the car. As in Cady [ v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973) ], there is no suggestion whatever that this standard procedure, essentially like that followed throughout the country, was a pretext concealing an investigatory police motive." 428 U.S. 375-376, 96 S.Ct. at 3100.

The actual inventory in the instant case was carried out in conformity with Opperman. The police acted according to departmental procedure, completing a standard inventory form. Furthermore, the defendant's purse was located in plain view on the front seat of the car. The inventory "was a routine administrative caretaking function performed pursuant to standard department procedures...." (People v. Long (On Remand ), 419 Mich. 636, 647, 359 N.W.2d 194 (1984)).

The true issue is whether the initial impoundment of Krezen's car was a constitutional violation. The impoundment occurred within the context of a standard departmental policy that, upon arrest of the driver, all vehicles not released to another driver were to be impounded. The defendant argues that the policy is unconstitutionally overbroad, since it does not allow an exercise of discretion by the officer.

The actual departmental policy is unclear. One officer testified that impoundment was required when the owner/driver is arrested "unless that car is released to another person by authority of the owner." Another officer testified that when an arrest is made, the car is impounded "if it is not released to another party in the vehicle." If the policy is written, it was never entered into evidence as an exhibit. The Court of Appeals decision described the Grand Rapids policy as "to impound and inventory all motor vehicles following the arrests of their drivers...." 143 Mich.App. 34, 40, 371 N.W.2d 882 (1985).

If the departmental policy is indeed that all arrests require impoundment, regardless of the surrounding factual circumstances, there may well be situations in which an impoundment would violate the Fourth Amendment as an unreasonable seizure. However, the actual policy is unclear, and the specific facts in this case render the impoundment decision eminently reasonable. Since this is not an alleged First Amendment violation, the reasonableness of the impoundment as applied to the facts of this case is what is determinative--the mere fact that the regulation might in some case be overbroad is not pertinent where the police activity vis-a-vis this defendant was constitutional. See, e.g., United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 21, 80 S.Ct. 519, 522, 4 L.Ed.2d 524 (1960).

The simple fact that the impoundment occurred without a warrant does not make it unconstitutional per se. In Cooper v. California, supra, 386 U.S. at p. 59, 87 S.Ct. at p. 789, the United States Supreme Court observed:

"[W]hether a search and seizure is unreasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case[;] ... searches of cars that are constantly movable may make the search of a car without a warrant a reasonable one although the result might be the opposite in a search of a home, a store, or other fixed piece of property."

While the issue in this case deals with impoundment--a species of "seizure" rather than of "search"--the analysis used in relation to searches is instructive.

In Cady, the Court upheld the "search" of the trunk of an automobile which, after being in an accident, was towed to a private garage. The search was instituted because the defendant was a Chicago policeman and the Wisconsin police did not want his service revolver, which might have been in the car, to fall into the wrong hands and endanger public safety. Id., 413 U.S. at p. 443, 93 S.Ct. at p. 2529. In the course of looking for the revolver, the police found other incriminating evidence which led to the defendant's conviction for murder. The Court determined that lack of a warrant was not fatal and that the trunk search was reasonable under the facts of the case:

"The Court's previous recognition of the distinction between motor vehicles and dwelling places leads us to conclude that the type of caretaking 'search' conducted here of a vehicle that was neither in the custody nor on the premises of its owner, and that had been placed where it was by virtue of lawful police action, was not unreasonable solely because a warrant had not been obtained. The Framers of the Fourth Amendment have given us only the general standard of 'unreasonableness' as a guide in determining whether searches and seizures meet the standard of that Amendment in those cases where a warrant is not required. Very little that has been said in our previous decisions ... and very little that we might say here can usefully refine the language of the Amendment itself in order to evolve some detailed formula for judging cases such as this. Where, as here, the trunk of an automobile, which the officer reasonably believed to contain a gun, was vulnerable to intrusion by vandals, we hold that the search was not 'unreasonable' within the meaning of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments." Id., pp. 447-448, 93 S.Ct. at pp. 2530-2531.

In the instant case, the impoundment of Krezen's car without a warrant was not unreasonable per se. As in Cady, the car was not on the premises of its owner, and, once the arrest occurred, it was no longer in the owner's actual possession. While "impounding" a house without a warrant just because the defendant was arrested outside of the house could, under certain circumstances, be unreasonable per se, a car is a different matter. Its very nature as a transportable nonfixed item makes it and its contents more subject to theft or damage. Cady, pp. 441-442, 93 S.Ct. at p. 2528. A number of courts have recognized that the possibility of theft or vandalism is a valid reason for impounding a car upon the arrest of the driver, especially where no other person is present to take control of the car. See, e.g., United States v. Staller, 616 F.2d 1284 (CA 5, 1980); United States v. Scott, 665 F.2d 874 (CA 9, 1981); Cabbler v. Superintendent, Virginia State Penitentiary, 528 F.2d 1142 (CA 4, 1975); State v. Sims, 426 So.2d 148 (La, 1983). Other courts have recognized that leaving a car parked in a private location may be a nuisance. United States v. Brown, 787 F.2d 929 (CA 4, 1986). The impoundment was a caretaking function rather than an investigative one, instituted according to standard departmental policy to protect the defendant and the police from unnecessary thefts, recriminations, and civil suits. The trial court below found the following as true:

"It is the opinion of ...

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