SJC: Ask if Passenger Can Drive Before Impoundment

Police must ask an arrested driver whether they want a passenger to drive their vehicle to a safe location before authorities can decide whether it’s “reasonably necessary” to impound and conduct an inventory search, according to the Supreme Judicial Court. 

“We conclude that, where officers are aware that a passenger lawfully could assume custody of a vehicle, it is improper to impound the vehicle without first offering this option to the driver,” Justice Barbara A. Lenk wrote in a decision issued Monday. “Absent such an inquiry, the police cannot conclude that impoundment is ‘reasonably necessary.’”

Committee for Public Counsel Services appellate attorney Patrick Levin argued that the requirement for police to honor a practical alternative to impounding a vehicle “would be rendered meaningless if police were permitted simply to impound the vehicle without inquiring into an obvious, readily available alternative.”

Levin added that the police should have the burden to “make a reasonable inquiry” to the arrested individual’s wishes when there are alternatives to impoundment “readily apparent at the scene.”

Lawyers for the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys wrote an amicus brief siding with CPCS.