Throwing keys in parking lot of grocery store and running is an abandonment of your vehicle for 4th amendment purposes


In 2012, Adams County Sheriff’s Deputies spotted Verenzo Green with several other men standing by a vehicle with its trunk open outside of a grocery store. Green had an outstanding warrant for a burglary committed one month before. When Green saw the officers, he closed the trunk, threw a set of car keys down, and ran into some nearby woods.

Police spoke with the manager of the store who requested that the car be towed. Police called a tow truck and confirmed that the vehicle belonged to Green. While waiting for the truck, they used the abandoned keys to open the car and perform an inventory search where three guns were found in the trunk. Green was convicted of being a felon in possession of firearms and sentenced to 30 years. On appeal, Green argues the search was illegal. MCOA affirms.


A.  Abandoned property

In Quiroz-Hernandez, the Federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said that a person has no standing to complain of a search or seizure of property that he has abandoned.

In U.S. v. Williams, 569 F.2d 823, 826 (5th Cir. 1978), the Federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said that the abandonment question is one of intent, primarily whether the person prejudiced by the search had voluntarily discarded, left behind, or otherwise relinquished his interest in the property so that he could no longer retain a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to it at the time of the search. Further, intent may be inferred from words spoken, acts done, and other objective facts.

In United States v. Edwards 441 F.2d 749, 751 (5th Cir. 1971), the Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a defendant abandoned his vehicle, and therefore had no Fourth Amendment protection in regard to the vehicle, when he left his keys in the ignition and fled on foot from the police. The defendant, Edwards, jumped out of his car during a high-speed chase.

We find the facts of this case akin to the circumstances in Edwards. When Green saw the police officers, he eased away from the vehicle, threw the keys to the ground, and ran towards some nearby woods. Based on Green’s actions and the relevant circumstances, we agree with the trial judge’s determination that Green abandoned the vehicle. As a result, Green had no Fourth Amendment protection in regard to the vehicle.

B.  Inventory Search

Even if Green had not abandoned the car and thus had standing to challenge the search, the search was reasonable as an inventory search.

In Lage, the Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an inventory search of a seized vehicle is reasonable and not violative of the Fourth Amendment if it is conducted pursuant to standardized regulations and procedures that are consistent with (1) protecting the property of the vehicle’s owner, (2) protecting the police against claims or disputes over lost or stolen property, and (3) protecting the police from danger.

Agents George Pirkey and David Washington, Adams County Sheriff’s Department, performed the inventory search of Green’s vehicle while waiting for the tow truck to arrive. Pirkey testified that it is the Adams County Sheriff’s Department’s standard procedure to inventory the contents of a vehicle that is about to be impounded; he further stated that this policy is used to record any damage to the vehicle and release officers from any liability on subsequent claims of damage or theft.

In Lattimore, we found it permissible for officers to conduct an inventory search of a vehicle when the circumstances require it to be impounded. Further, the record lacks any evidence of bad faith on the part of the officers in conducting the search. Accordingly, this issue has no merit.