Inmate Gets New Trial After Unlawful Search

     RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Police officers who discovered cocaine, methamphetamine and Oxycodone during a routine inventory search of an impounded truck cannot charge the vehicle’s owner for drug possession, an appellate judge ruled.
     On March 27, 2012, Richlands, Va. police officers towed James Dean Cantrell’s truck after the driver allegedly ran a stop sign, failed a field sobriety test and was placed under arrest for driving under the influence.
     The ruling does not indicate whether the appellant was sentenced for drug or DUI charges prior to his appeal.
     Although department policy stipulates Richlands police officers should impound and inventory vehicles following a DUI arrest, there is no written policy detailing search protocol, which, according to the department, is conducted at the discretion of the officer.
     “The RPD had no mandatory policy whatsoever,” Judge Robert J. Humphreys of the Virginia Court of Appeals wrote on July 28. “Instead, the RPD gave individual officers unfettered discretion in the manner in which they conducted an inventory search, a practice that is inapposite to the underlying principles of the community caretaker exception.”
     “Officer McGhee did not receive any training from the department ‘on how to conduct a[n inventory] search’,” Humphreys continued. “Policies must provide discretion only to the extent necessary to effectuate the purposes of an inventory search – otherwise inventory searches could devolve into ‘a purposeful and general means of discovering evidence of another crime.'”
     Which is exactly what happened to Cantrell when officers used the search as a pretext for improper investigation – while McGhee affirmed during his testimony that he was looking for contraband items during his search, the Richlands Police Department had no written protocol to support this procedure, according to court documents.
     “This glaring admission proves that Officer McGhee’s search of Cantrell’s vehicle was not for the benign purposes underlying the community caretaker exception,” Humphreys wrote. “Instead, one of his reasons for performing the inventory search was to improperly search for contraband and other evidence of crime.”
     Cantrell will receive a new trial as a result of the decision.
     The Richlands Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

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