Roller-coaster ride through many 4th Amendment issues: Plain View, Inventory, Caretaking, Impound…

This is a really great case with many 4th and 5th Amendment issues. It would be a perfect question for any law school exam. And in real life, it meant that the illegally seized firearm in the case of US v. Chavez was suppressed and could not be used against Mr. Chavez at trial.

Hot pursuit. Before the seizure, the driver, Manuel Chavez, had driven the car at least a couple hundred feet up a private, dirt roadway and parked it outside his isolated trailer home. Mr. Chavez was gone from the case and the first officer began looking for him. One responding (second) officer, Deputy Leroy Chavez, noticed that the car’s “engine was still running” and that its RPMs were “fluctuating.” He also saw that the car was in the drive gear and that it had a “slight rock to it” from idling. As he approached, he confirmed that the car had no occupants except for the dog. With officers standing in front of the car, and the unrestrained dog inside, Deputy Chavez worried that the car might move forward. For safety’s sake, he opened the unlocked driver’s side door, balanced himself on the steering wheel with his left hand, put his right foot on the brake, and shifted the vehicle into park with his right hand. As he pushed back out of the car, he saw on the driver-side floorboard a “rubber grip which appeared to be a handgun in a black holster.” Leaving the firearm in place, he shut the door.

The first officer finds Mr. Chavez. The second Officer tells the first about the firearm. Without giving Mr. Chavez a Miranda warning, the Deputy asked Chavez, “Are you a felon?” Mr. Chavez responded, “Yes, sir.”

After arresting Mr. Chavez, the Deputy began walking him to the patrol
car. On the way, the two men approached the car that Mr. Chavez had driven. As they were alongside it, Deputy peered through the driver’s side window and saw the firearm “kind of tucked in . . . underneath the seat and outside on the floorboard.”

Back in his patrol car, the Deputy ran Mr. Chavez’s licensing information through a law-enforcement database. This revealed that Mr. Chavez had been arrested several times and was driving with a suspended driver’s license. So the Deputy decided to inventory the car and have it towed
and impounded.

When the officers were “pretty much already done with the inventory prior
to tow,” a female (“C.B.”) appeared from the trailer and claimed to own the car. The ownership checked out.


Mr. Chavez had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car because he left it on a private road and had permission to use it. No abandonment for Fourth Amendment purposes.

The plain view doctrine allows officers to search for the gun without a warrant, not seize it.

The impoundment was against the sheriff’s policy therefore invalid. Additionally, no authority as the impoundment was called off.

No community-caretaking doctrine because the firearm was in a car parked on a private dirt road. It would have taken “a daring child, vandal or thief” to enter the private road, break into the car and steal the gun.

The admission that Mr. Chavez was a felon does not help the government. No MIRANDA warning!

Automobile exception. Nope. Still need probable cause to search and seize.

What should have the officers done? Maybe get a warrant?!

Some cases for you to review:
Inventory Searches:
Inventory searches without a warrant or probable cause. Too hard for police not to peek inside?,

Automobile Exception:
Searching bags or containers in your car without a warrant? Automobile Exception? CA v. Acevedo,

Can police search your car WITHOUT a warrant just because it’s an automobile? Chambers v. Maroney,

Does a Motor Home fall under automobile exception or does police need to get a warrant to search?,

The word AUTOMOBILE is not a talisman in whose presence the 4th Amendment fades away and disappears!,

“Question first, give Miranda warning later” and other discussions of the Miranda. Bobby v. Dixon,

Can a confession be used against you in court just because you waived Miranda rights?,

“MAYBE I should talk to a lawyer.” Is that enough to get a lawyer under Miranda? Davis v. US (1994),

Suspect “wasn’t going to say anything at all” half-way through Miranda Rights. | USA v. Abdallah,

Full Opinion Here: US v. Chavez,

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
LAWSTACHE™ LAW FIRM | Criminal Defense and Business Law​​
185 West F Street Suite 100-D
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 357-6677

Based in San Diego, CA
Licensed: California, Nevada, and Federal Courts