8/4/2017Federal Appeals Court Rejects Glove Box Search
Ninth Circuit rejects glovebox search for registration information that can be obtained electronically.
The march of technology is eliminating another favorite tool police use to search vehicles. The Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals last week said police cannot rummage through an automobile's glovebox without permission or warrant to "find the registration" when a simple computer search can look up the same information from the VIN, the vehicle identification number visible from outside the car.
The three-judge appellate panel threw out the gun charges against Michael Curtis Painter, a career criminal whose .45 caliber Ruger handgun was stored in the glovebox searched by a Spokane, Washington police officer on December 3, 2013. Corporal Shane Oien had been pursuing Painter's Dodge Stratus that day for allegedly running a stop sign. As Painter tried to get away, he ran another red light and was hit by a truck.
As Painter crawled out of the passenger side door of his wrecked vehicle, over the deployed airbags, he was placed under arrest. The officer investigating the scene decided to grab the vehicle registration information from the glovebox, which is where Painter had stored the gun he was not allowed to possess. The three-judge panel found that there was no excuse for performing this search without a warrant.
"The record in this case does not establish (nor does the government argue) that searching Painter's vehicle would have protected the safety of the police officers at the scene," the appellate ruling explained. "The officer's search of Painter's vehicle does not appear to have furthered meaningfully the government's interest in regulating motor vehicles, because Painter's vehicle could have been readily identified through either its license plate or publicly viewable VIN."
The officers at the scene claimed that they needed the registration information to fill out accident forms. The Ninth Circuit saw no urgency in filling out a form that could have been completed using the officers' computer terminal.
"Even assuming that such alternative methods for obtaining the registration information were not available to the police officers, the record does not establish (and the government does not argue) that there was any exigency that demanded such registration information be immediately identified before a warrant could be obtained," the judges concluded.
Painter is currently serving time in a federal prison until August 31, 2020. A copy of the unpublished ruling is available in a 400k PDF file at the source link below.