Inventory search of vehicle before wrecker arrived is permissible


In 2001, someone broke into Elliot Lumber’s building and then broke into the company safe. A few days later, a narcotics officer contacted the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) and spoke with Deputy Terry Prestige regarding Prestige’s investigation of the Elliot Lumber Company safe burglary.

According to the narcotics agent, he had a lead on the Elliot Lumber Company safe burglary through Virginia Garrison. Virginia indicated that her ex-husband, Robert Garrison, broke into Elliot Lumber Company and then broke into the safe. Virginia also linked Garrison to a liquor store burglary in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She claimed Garrison stole a derringer pistol from the liquor store.

Prestige contacted the Holly Springs Police Department. The Holly Springs Police Department verified the liquor store burglary and confirmed Virginia’s claim of the stolen derringer. The Holly Springs Police Department provided Prestige with the derringer’s serial number. Still, authorities could not find Garrison.

A few days later, two women contacted the LCSO and reported a confrontation between Robert Garrison and Virginia. According to their report, Garrison was shooting a derringer behind Virginia’s trailer. Prestige proceeded towards Virginia’s property. On his way, he passed a convenience store and noticed Garrison in the parking lot.

Prestige turned around and headed back to the store. On his way back, Prestige met Garrison, driving a truck in the opposite direction. Prestige turned around again, caught up with Garrison and stopped him. Prestige knew that Garrison had a suspended driver’s license.

When Prestige asked Garrison for his driver’s license, Garrison presented a driver’s license under someone else’s name. That is, Garrison tried to pass himself off as someone else. However, Garrison later admitted his true identity. Prestige arrested Garrison for driving with a suspended license.

Another deputy drove Garrison to the jail. Meanwhile, Prestige called a wrecker to tow Garrison’s truck. While he was waiting, Prestige searched the cab of Garrison’s truck and found a derringer in Garrison’s glove compartment. The derringer’s serial number matched the serial number corresponding to the derringer stolen during the Holly Springs liquor store burglary.

Garrison was convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon and knowing possession of a stolen firearm and sentenced to eight years. On appeal, he argued the search incident to arrest of his vehicle was not done pursuant to a standardized policy. MCOA affirmed.


We said in Ray that when an individual is arrested and there is no one readily available to take possession of the arrestee’s vehicle, the arresting officer will often have the car impounded. In Ray, authorities arrested a defendant. While waiting to transport that defendant to the jail, authorities performed an inventory search of the defendant’s car as part of the standard procedure of the Jackson Police Department. We found that the search of the interior of the defendant’s car was a properly conducted inventory search.

The inventory exception exists for three basic reasons: (1) the protection of the arrestee’s property while in police custody, (2) the protection of the police against claims or disputes over lost or stolen property and (3) the protection of the police from potential danger. To ensure that the inventory search remains within the scope necessary to carry out the care-taking function of protecting the arrestee’s vehicle, the officers must follow the standard departmental procedure set for inventory and impounding

Thus, Garrison is correct when he asserts that an inventory search incident to arrest must be conducted pursuant to a standardized procedure. Still, resolution of this issue depends on whether or not the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office searched his truck pursuant to such a standardized procedure.

During the hearing on Garrison’s motion to suppress, Prestige testified “when we make a stop out on the street if there is only one person there unless there is someone there at that time that he take possession of the truck or of the vehicle we don’t usually allow a person taken into custody to secure a vehicle by means other than impounding. We usually call a wrecker.” Later, the following exchange took place:

THE STATE: Terry, you said y’all had a procedure that you followed when you impound a vehicle. What is that?

PRESTIGE: We don’t have a written procedure, if that is what you are asking but on most occasions we call a wrecker. Unless there is some one there at the time that the person can release the vehicle to. They will release it at that time but most of the time we call a wrecker. It is so much easier.

THE STATE: Based on your investigation in this case had you felt like you had probable cause to hold the vehicle at that time any way, did you not?

PRESTIGE: Yes, sir, and we were having it towed to our county barn and that is one reason I took pictures of everything to come out missing or several days later to some one to say that there was something in there that wasn’t in there.

As in Ray, Prestige testified that there was no one available to remove Garrison’s vehicle from the roadside. Further, Prestige testified that, under such circumstances, the LCSO’s standard procedure was to call a wrecker to impound the vehicle. Just as in Ray, Prestige performed an inventory search prior to impoundment. Accordingly, Prestige’s search was a valid inventory search.