Express written or oral waiver not needed for statement and inventory search of vehicle proper


In 2015, Sebastopol Chief of police Daniel Ogletree initiated a traffic stop on a Nissan Sentra because the driver, Robert Pinter, was not wearing a seat belt. Ogletree learned he had a suspended drivers license and an outstanding warrant so he placed him under arrest.

Ogletree was going to need to tow the vehicle as there were no other adults in the car so he performed an inventory search and found marijuana, methamphetamine, and Xanax in the trunk of the car. Ogletree read Pinter his Miranda rights and Pinter stated that he understood his rights. Ogletree then showed him the drugs and Pinter said he liked the way they made him feel.

He was convicted of possession of controlled substances and sentenced to four years. On appeal, he argued 1) he never (orally or in writing) expressly waived his rights and 2) the inventory search was improper. MCOA affirmed (on unrelated issue, they remanded for resentencing).


A.  Statement

Pinter argues that even if he stated that he did understand his rights, that did not amount to a valid waiver of those rights. Pinter’s argument is without merit. In Houston, this court held that the defendant’s confession was admissible because he confessed after he was advised of his Miranda rights and stated that he understood his rights, even though he then refused to sign a Miranda waiver.

We also said in Odom that just because he did not waive his rights in writing is of no consequence since the lack of a written waiver does not invalidate the waiver. Pinter’s confession is not inadmissible simply because he did not expressly state orally or in writing that he waived his right to counsel or his right to remain silent.

The United States Supreme Court explained in North Carolina v. Butler, 441 U.S. 369 (1979):  An express written or oral statement of waiver of the right to remain silent or of the right to counsel is usually strong proof of the validity of that waiver, but is not inevitably necessary to establish waiver. The question is not one of form, but rather whether the defendant in fact knowingly and voluntarily waived the rights delineated in the Miranda case.

B.  Inventory Search of car

Inventory searches have good purposes: to protect the vehicle and the property in it, and to safeguard the police or other officers from claims of lost possessions. An inventory search may also serve to protect the police from danger.

Such a search is reasonable and consistent with the Fourth Amendment when it is clear that the procedure used is a valid inventory and is not merely a pretext for a search, whether or not there is some suspicion that contraband or other evidence may be found.

In Logan, this court held that it is permissible for officers to conduct an inventory search
of a vehicle when the circumstances require it to be impounded. MSC has also held in Robinson v. State, 418 So. 2d 749 (Miss. 1982), that a valid inventory search may extend to the locked trunk of a car.

In O’Connell, this court recognized that police may conduct an inventory search while the vehicle is still on the highway awaiting towing and that the search does not offend Fourth Amendment principles so long as it is made pursuant to standard police procedures and for the purpose of protecting the car and its contents.

Because the car was about to be towed, it was not unreasonable and did not violate the Fourth Amendment for Ogletree to search the vehicle to determine whether it contained any valuable contents that needed to be safeguarded. Ogletree testified that the search was an inventory search and that its purpose was to determine whether there was anything valuable inside the vehicle. Ogletree also testified that it was his normal practice to conduct an inventory search when he made an arrest in the course of a traffic stop.