Is Contraband Seized In An Inventory Search Admissible In Court ?

Fourth Amendment law governing inventory searches by police provides as follows: An inventory search is a Fourth Amendment search and seizure, Elson v. State, 337 So.2d 959 (Fla. 1976), but is unique in that its purposes are for the protection of property and persons rather than to investigate criminal activity. Miller v. State, 403 So.2d 1307 (Fla. 1981). Contraband or evidence seized in a valid inventory search is admissible because the procedure is a recognized exception to the warrant requirement. Caplan v. State, 531 So.2d 88 (Fla. 1988). The nature of this exception, however, is determined by the nature of the intrusion. In South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 96 S.Ct. 3092, 49 L.Ed.2d 1000 (1976), the United States Supreme Court discussed the protective, noncriminal basis of this particular intrusion and pointed out that the probable cause standard and the warrant requirement are not relevant to an inventory search analysis. The test is solely one of "reasonableness." The reasonableness of a purported inventory search is dependent upon it being a true good-faith inventory search and not a subterfuge for a criminal, investigatory search. If the search is not, in fact, an inventory search, then it must be justified on some other basis.