People v. Douglas


Issue: Whether NYPD’s automobile inventory-search procedures satisfied the Fourth
Amendment, where the Patrol Guide did not instruct officers on how much time may
pass between the search and the invoicing of any recovered property, and how and
where to safeguard the property.

Holding: The Patrol Guide’s regulations met the prosecution’s initial burden of
demonstrating that the protocol meets the constitutional minimum.

CAL observes: Another majority opinion from the Court that adds little clarity to the
legal standards that law enforcement is required to follow and lower courts are
required to apply. After describing the inventory search that led the recovery of a
firearm that took place after Douglas was stopped for traffic infractions and arrested
for a knife that was illegal at the time found during a frisk, Judge Singas’ majority
opinion recited a conventional boilerplate summary of the Court’s law governing
inventory searches. It covered no new ground. Judge Singas’ opinion did not even
identify Douglas’ arguments as to why the inventory search was unlawful. The Court
concluded by stating “the People sustained their initial burden of demonstrating that
the protocol meets ‘the constitutional minimum.’” The Court made no effort to apply
the facts to the law in its decision, and provided no reason why constitutional
standards were met notwithstanding Douglas’ arguments. The majority opinion did
nothing more than decide the appeal, failing to make a single new observation or
explanation of the law.

In contrast, in her dissent, Judge Rivera laid out Douglas’ straightforward contention:
the Patrol Guide governing the officers’ conduct was “facially unconstitutional
because it furnishe[d] officers with unfettered discretion regarding the recovery and
vouchering of property, thereby defeating the purposes of inventory searches.” In
Judge Rivera’s view, the inventory search was constitutionally flawed because it the
Patrol Guide “wholly inadequate at cabining an officer’s discretion regarding the
handling of recovered property because it does not instruct the officer on how much
time may pass between the search and the invoicing, or instruct them on how and
where to safeguard the property. Without such instruction the Guide cannot facilitate
the narrow permissible purposes of inventory searches—protecting property,
ensuring against theft claims, and protecting officers and others against dangerous
items. Therefore, the Guide is unconstitutional on its face.” One can agree or
disagree with Judge Rivera’s conclusions, but at least she joins issue on the question
presented, resolves it, and shows her work for how and why she reached that