Trial Court No. 3AN-07-4598 CR
Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Peter G. Ashman, Judge.
Appearances: Hannah E. King, Assistant Public Defender, and Q uinlan Steiner, Public D efender, Anchorage, for the A ppellant.
Diane L. Wendlandt, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, Allard, Judge, and Hanley, District Court Judge.[*]
An Anchorage police officer observed K yle A drian Rogers commit a traffic violation, and the officer conducted a traffic stop. During this stop, the officer determined that Rogers' driver's license was suspended and that he was not insured. A second officer arrived on the scene and concluded that, due to these two offenses, Rogers' car would be impounded. This second officer then searched Rogers' vehicle without a warrant and discovered cocaine. Based on this discovery, Rogers was convicted of fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance.
Superior Court Judge Peter G. Ashman upheld the warrantless search of Rogers' vehicle under the theory that it was a valid inventory search. For the reasons explained in this opinion, we conclude that the search of Rogers' car was not a valid inventory search, and we therefore reverse his conviction.
Facts and proceedings
On April 28, 2007, Anchorage Police Officer John Goetz saw a car violate the Anchorage municipal traffic code by changing lanes while turning from one street onto another, so he conducted a traffic stop. Rogers was driving the car, but he was unable to produce a driver's license or proof of insurance. Goetz returned to his patrol car to check the status of Rogers' license and insurance.
In the meantime, a second officer, William Geiger, arrived on the scene. He observed Rogers, who was sitting in the driver's seat, moving his hands toward the center console and passenger side of the car.
While Geiger was observing Rogers, Officer Goetz confirmed that Rogers' driver's license was suspended and that he had no insurance. Goetz had Rogers get out of his vehicle, and he temporarily detained Rogers in the back of his patrol car.
After Goetz escorted Rogers to his patrol car, Geiger began searching Rogers' vehicle. Geiger further testified that it was his practice, every time a driver was found to be unlicensed or uninsured, to impound the vehicle. Geiger assumed that Rogers' car would be impounded, and he decided to get a "jumpstart" on what he characterized as an inventory search of the car.
Geiger testified that when he first entered the car, he looked into the "lunge, reach, and grasp" area surrounding the driver's seat, but he did not see "anything of interest." Geiger then focused on the center console and saw that it was partially ...