In Georgia, law enforcement generally has the authority to search your vehicle after it has been impounded. The purpose is not to search for criminal evidence initially but rather to document the things in your car. However, this routine procedure might lead to the discovery of illegal items or evidence.
The purpose of an inventory search
Law enforcement officers conduct an inventory search primarily to limit liability. They aim to prevent the police department from facing liability for items allegedly lost or damaged in the car when they impound it. For instance, if a vehicle owner claims a valuable item—a laptop, jewelry or cash—was in the vehicle at the time the police impounded the car and is now missing, the inventory search record can protect the police from such claims.
Impoundment leading to searches
Police can impound a vehicle under several circumstances. These often involve situations where there’s probable cause to believe the car holds evidence of a crime, warranting a more thorough search. Typical reasons for impoundment include driving under the influence, operating with a suspended license or suspicion of the vehicle’s involvement in a crime.
Validity of the search
If the police impound your car, it is likely they may search it. However, remember that you still have rights and potential defenses. If law enforcement did not follow the correct protocols while impounding the car or their search, or if they cannot justify the initial stop or impoundment properly, any evidence they found may be invalid or inadmissible in court. Your defense will depend on the specifics of your case, such as whether the impoundment was valid and how they conducted the search.
These situations can be complex, but a lawyer may be able to make sense of the facts and help plan your defense in case of criminal charges.