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After a car seizure how long can the police hold the car and items without retaining a warrant to search?

Spokane, WA |

If a car is stationary, pulled over in a parking lot, someone other then the owner of the vehicle was in the drivers seat and a police officer walks up to inquire. Both occupants of the vehicle were honest, the officer happened to see an empty ammo box and asked to search the vehicle. The owner of the car refused without a warrant. The police officer ultimately did not make an arrest of either occupants but seized the car and everything within it (cellphone, ID, clothes, money, etc). How long can the police legally keep the vehicle and all belongings in it without getting a warrant and searching it? After it is searched what do the police legally have to give back and in what time frame? If there are items in the car that suggest illegal activity can they hold on to the car and all items?

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Attorney answers 2


There are no rigid rules regarding timeframes suggested by your question. If the officer actually seized your vehicle he had a right to then make an inventory search of everything in it w/o a warrant. If I understand your question the issue is did he have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to seize your car and then if properly seized what was the proper scope of the inventory search.



"Probable cause" supposedly would have been the empty ammunition box. However owner of the vehicle is over 21 therefore legal to purchase/possess ammunition. Lets assume they have probable cause or convince a judge of as much. Once the inventory is done without a warrant will there be any chance of getting the car released and or belongings in the car? If there was illegal contraband in the car what will be the next step? Court? Arrest warrant?


There are no straightforward, simple answers to these questions. The police not only have a lot of power, but they also are not legally required to provide explanations to suspects for their activities. At least not until a court orders them to do so. A lawyer can contact police in a way that protects a suspect from further incriminating him or herself.