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Nevada Supreme Court: Search Invalid Where Police Failed to Properly Inventory Bag

Kimberly Marie Nye was arrested after refusing to leave a casino in Elko County. She was secured in a police cruiser, and her bag was placed in the cruiser’s trunk without being searched. When she arrived at the jail, officers then searched her bag and found drugs and paraphernalia. Her property was then inventoried, though the booking deputy merely listed “bag” without listing the bag’s contents, including the contraband.

Upon being charged with possession of a controlled substance, Nye filed a motion to suppress the drugs as the search was not performed incident to her arrest nor, she argued, was it the result of a lawful inventory search. She prevailed, and the State appealed.

The Nevada Supreme Court first analyzed whether the search was valid under the search incident to arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“The authority to search incident to arrest derives from the need to disarm and prevent any evidence from being concealed or destroyed.” State v. Greenwald, 858 P.2d 36 (Nev. 1993). Nye was confined to the patrol car and separated from her bag stored away in the trunk. The contents of the bag could not be used to harm the officers nor could she “conceal or destroy” its contents. Because the rationale justifying a search incident to arrest was inapplicable to the facts of this case, the search of her bag could not be justified under this exception, the Court concluded.

The State also argued that it was inevitable that the booking inventory search of Nye’s bag would have resulted in the discovery of the drugs.

“An inventory search, if valid, can constitute a lawful means of discovery.” Weintraub v. State, 871 P.2d 339 (Nev. 1994). An inventory search is “reasonable” and thus an allowed exception to Fourth Amendment protections because its purpose “is to protect personal property, insulate officers from charges of theft, and expose any possible danger.” Id. However, in order to serve these purposes, officers conducting the search must produce “a true inventory” of personal items found during the search. Id.

The booking officer testified that he searched Nye’s bag, but “the department’s general practice is to list the bulk item as ‘bag’ without inventorying its individual contents” when “there are too many items in a container.”

The Court explained that this inventory – which only stated “bag” and did not list the bag’s contents nor the contraband found in it – did not constitute “a true inventory” as it served none of the purposes that make an inventory search reasonable under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

The State “solely relied on the existence of an official procedure to show the validity of the inventory search but failed to put forth any evidence demonstrating that the booking deputy followed the department’s policy when searching Nye’s backpack,” the Court stated. For instance, the State failed to produce “any video evidence depicting the booking deputy’s inspection of the backpack” despite “department policy requiring the booking deputy to conduct the inventory search in camera view,” noted the Court.

Thus, the Court concluded that, while booking inventory searches performed according to policy are reasonable, the fact that this search was not conducted according to policy made it unreasonable, and the discovery of the drugs was not “inevitable.”

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Related legal case

State v. Nye



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