Inventory Search Law and Legal Definition

An inventory search is the routine inventory of an impounded vehicle. The Supreme Court has ruled that evidence of a crime uncovered during such a search can be used for prosecution. A warrant is not required because the state, in legally impounding the vehicle, bears legal liability for the contents of the vehicle. To protect itself against law suits, the state must have a written list of these contents. Under the plain view doctrine, because police conducting the inventory have a legitimate reason to look inside the car, it is not reasonable for them to close their eyes to evidence of crime.

An inventory search must follow established departmental policies and satisfy the objectives of preserving the property of the defendant, shielding the police against claims of lost property, and protecting the police and others from any dangerous objects. Although incriminating evidence may be the result of an inventory search, the discovery of such evidence must not be its purpose. An inventory search must not be a ruse for a general rummaging in order to discover incriminating evidence.