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Court Discusses Inevitable Discovery Rule in Recent Virginia Gun Case

On Behalf of | Jul 6, 2020 | Search and Seizure, Traffic Law

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Virginia gun case discussing the inevitable discovery rule, which allows the admission of evidence that was otherwise illegally obtained. The justification for the rule is that, even without a police officer’s illegal actions, the evidence at issue would have eventually been discovered through legal means.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, two police officers stopped a car because it had no license plates on the front or rear of the vehicle. Initially, the officers did not notice any indications that there was contraband in the car. The officers took the defendant’s license back to their car to run it for warrants. During this time, the two officers could be heard discussing ways they could search the defendant’s car. One officer suggested they ask for consent, and that if the defendant refused permission, then “there’s definitely something in that ******* car!”

The defendant’s license came back, showing he had a warrant. One officer pumped his fist in a “yes!” motion and explained that they could search the area immediately around the defendant as a search incident to the arrest. The other officer corrected the first officer, stating that they could search the whole car because the car would need to be towed, and they would need to conduct an inventory search.

Despite the defendant’s protest, the officers searched the car, ultimately finding a gun. The defendant was arrested and charged with weapons offenses. He filed a pretrial motion to suppress the firearm, arguing that the officer’s conduct was illegal and that the gun was not found during a valid inventory search, because the officer’s stated purpose was to search the car for investigatory purposes.

The trial court rejected the defendant’s argument, and the defendant appealed. Initially, the court acknowledged that an inventory search must be conducted for inventory purposes only, and may not be based on an officer’s suspicions that he will find contraband. Thus, the court held that the search was not an inventory search and was illegal. The court then went on to address the prosecution’s inevitable discovery claim.

The court determined that the gun would not have been discovered absent the police officer’s improper motivations for searching the car. The court explained that once the officer searched the whole car and found the gun, there would be no purpose in conducting another inventory search. Additionally, the court noted that the officers testified they had let other motorists park their car legally before taking the defendant into custody. Here, the officers could have allowed the defendant to park his car, but they chose not to do so because they wanted to search the vehicle. Also, the court noted that the very purpose of the exclusionary rule is to prevent this very type of violation, where police officers try to find ways around a defendant’s constitutional protections. Given that, the court held that “we can think of no more appropriate action to deter future officer misconduct than suppression of the unlawfully discovered evidence.”

Have You Been Arrested after a Virginia Car Stop?

If you have recently been arrested after a Virginia traffic stop, and believe that the police illegally searched your vehicle, contact the dedicated Virginia criminal defense lawyers at Robinson Law, PLLC. At Robinson Law, we proudly represent those facing serious criminal charges, including as Virginia gun crimes, helping them defend their freedom and move on with their life. To learn more, and to schedule your free consultation today, call 703-542-3616.