County District Court No. 13CR1092 Honorable Patrick D.
Butler, Judge Honorable Thomas F. Mulvahill, Judge
Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Joseph G. Michaels,
Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for
Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Karen
Mahlman Gerash, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver,
Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant
and Welling, JJ, concur
1 Defendant, Michael A. Camarigg, appeals the judgment of
conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of
driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI); careless
driving; and possessing chemicals, supplies, or equipment
with intent to manufacture methamphetamine. We affirm.
2 After defendant was arrested for DUI, officers decided to
impound his Jeep because it was parked in front of a gas pump
at a gas station. The officers conducted an inventory search
of the vehicle and discovered a sealed box containing items
commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Based on
those items, they obtained a warrant to search the Jeep and
found additional items used to manufacture meth.
3 The People charged defendant with DUI; careless driving;
and possession of chemicals, supplies, or equipment with
intent to manufacture methamphetamine. A jury convicted him
of all charges.
Motion to Suppress
4 Defendant first argues that the trial court should have
excluded evidence discovered in the inventory search of his
Jeep and under the subsequently issued warrant. We disagree.
5 After stopping defendant on suspicion of DUI, Corporal
Jonathan Bomba of the Lafayette Police Department called a
DUI officer to complete the DUI investigation and arrest.
Once defendant was placed under arrest, Corporal Bomba began
an inventory search of the Jeep so it could be impounded.
Corporal Alex Grotzky later arrived and assisted with the
6 In the cargo area, Corporal Grotzky found a gasoline
canister and a transmission fluid container with tubes coming
out of them. These items "kind of piqued [his] attention
as possibly something that could be used in meth
manufacturing." He also found a United States Postal
Service (U.S.P.S.) box addressed to "Jayne McCoy"
in Idaho Springs, from a return address in Arizona without a
name. Corporal Grotzky cut the box open and discovered drain
cleaner, leaking hydrochloric acid, a glass beaker, and pH
testing strips. Recognizing these items as consistent with
methamphetamine manufacturing, Corporal Grotzky called a
hazardous materials team to determine if the Jeep was an
active meth lab. The hazmat team determined it was not an
active lab, and the Jeep was impounded. A search warrant was
later issued, and officers discovered additional items
consistent with the manufacture of methamphetamine.
7 Defendant moved to suppress evidence obtained from the
inventory search and under the warrant. He argued that the
officers had options other than impounding his Jeep and that
the inventory search was not conducted according to a policy
that sufficiently curtailed police discretion, but, instead,
permitted general rummaging. He also asserted that the
evidence obtained under the warrant was tainted because the
warrant was based on evidence found in the allegedly
unconstitutional inventory search.
8 The prosecution argued that the officers acted reasonably
in impounding defendant's Jeep because other options were
impractical under the circumstances. The prosecutor also
argued that the inventory search was valid because department
policy required officers to open sealed containers found in
an inventory search.
9 The Lafayette Police Department manual provided that
[a]ll property in a stored or impounded vehicle shall be
inventoried and listed on the vehicle storage form. This
includes the trunk and any compartments or containers, even
if they are closed and/or locked. Members conducting
inventory searches should be as thorough and accurate as
practicable in preparing an itemized inventory. . . .
If the apparent potential for damage to a locked container
reasonably appears to outweigh the protection of the items
inside, other options to consider regarding locked containers
include, but are not limited to, obtaining access to the
locked container from the owner, placing the locked container
into safekeeping or obtaining a written waiver of
responsibility for the contents of the locked container.
10 Corporal Grotzky testified at the suppression hearing that
he did not make the decision to impound defendant's Jeep,
but factors likely informing that decision included the
. Impounding a vehicle "is common
practice with a DUI where you don't want the person to
get booked and released and go out and drive the
. The officers "[did not] have
permission from [the gas station] owner to leave the car
. The Jeep "was parked kind of in a
unique position in front of a gas pump where it would have
been a nuisance."
. Defendant's passenger "had
admitted to Corporal Bomba that she had consumed
alcohol" and had left the scene by the time Corporal
11 Corporal Grotzky further explained that he elected to open
the sealed U.S.P.S. box because, while "[t]here's
some discretion within our policy" whether to open
closed containers, he "wanted to make sure that there
were no . . . valuable items that [he] . . . [or] the tow
truck driver would be responsible for, [and] that the
defendant could [not] come back and claim that [he] . . .
[or] the tow truck driver [had] damaged or broken
[defendant's property]." Corporal Grotzky believed
cutting the tape on the box would not damage it, and he
"figured if . . . they needed to put a new piece of tape
on it afterwards it wouldn't be a big issue."
12 The trial court concluded that the Jeep was lawfully
impounded and the inventory search was conducted according to
standard policy. The court found no evidence of pretext
because while officers had some discretion in whether to
impound a vehicle, there were "some coherent and
reasonable reasons" why other options were impractical.
The court also found that "the determination to do an
inventory search [was made] . . . before there was any
evidence or even suspicion by the officer that there would be
some sort of illegal items found inside." Thus, the
court denied defendant's motion to suppress.
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
13 We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to
suppress as a mixed question of fact and law. People v.
Parks, 2015 COA 158, ¶ 7. We defer to the
court's factual findings if they are supported by the
record, but we review its conclusions of law de novo.
14 Unreasonable searches violate the United States and
Colorado Constitutions. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Colo. Const.
art. II, § 7. Warrantless searches are presumptively
unconstitutional unless an exception to the warrant
requirement applies. Parks, ¶ 10. Inventory
searches are one exception. Id. Inventory searches
"are designed to protect the owner's property while
it is in police custody, to insure against claims concerning
lost or damaged property, and to protect the police from any
danger posed by the contents of the vehicle." Pineda
v. People, 230 P.3d 1181, 1185 (Colo. 2010),
disapproved of on other grounds by People v. Vaughn,
2014 CO 71.
15 Inventory searches are reasonable if (1) the vehicle was
lawfully taken into custody, id.; (2) the search was
conducted according to "an established, standardized
policy, " Vaughn, ¶ 14; and (3) there is
no showing police acted in bad faith or for the sole purpose
of investigation, Pineda, 230 P.3d at 1185.
16 A vehicle is lawfully taken into custody if the seizure is
authorized by law and department regulations and is
reasonable. People v. Brown, 2016 COA 150,
¶¶ 14-15 (cert. granted July 3, 2017);
People v. Gee, 33 P.3d 1252, 1255-57 (Colo.App.
17 The inventory search must then be conducted according to a
standardized procedure so as not to become "a ruse for a
general rummaging in order to discover incriminating
evidence." Florida v. Wells, 495 U.S. 1, 4
(1990). Police discretion is permitted in conducting the
search "so long as that discretion is exercised
according to standard criteria and on the basis of something
other than suspicion of evidence of criminal activity."
Id. at 3-4 (quoting Colorado v. Bertine,
479 U.S. 367, 375 (1987)). "The policy or practice
governing inventory searches should be designed to produce an
inventory, " id. at 4, not as "a
purposeful and general means of discovering evidence of
crime, " id. (quoting Bertine, 479
U.S. at 376 (Blackmun, J., concurring)). The policy need not
be in writing, so long as it is routinely used by officers.
Brown, ¶ 16.
18 Finally, when assessing whether an inventory search was
pretextual, the officer's subjective motives are
irrelevant. Vaughn, ¶ 11 n.7. Instead, we ask
whether the officer's actions were ...