Cops' Search of Car Illegal, MN High Court Holds

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: MN criminal law, search and seizure.

State of Minnesota v. Erica Ann Rohde. MN criminal law, search and seizure

Blaine, Minnesota, police were conducting a drug investigation, and focused on a car driven by Erica Ann Rohde. After seeing a signalling violation, the police pulled the car over, and determined that Rohde had no license or insurance. The police told her that she was "technically" under arrest, but allowed her mother to come and pick her up.

Citing a department policy requiring the impounding of uninsured vehicles stopped on city streets, the police decided to tow and impound the vehicle. They then conducted an inventory search of the vehicle, in which they discovered two bags of methamphetamine. Rohde was charged with possession. She argued that the drugs should have been excluded as the result of an illegal search, but the Anoka County district court disagreed. After her conviction, she appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which affirmed. She then took the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court reversed the conviction, holding:

An inventory search of a motor vehicle was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution because the police improperly impounded the vehicle of a driver who was stopped but not arrested for misdemeanor traffic offenses when the vehicle was lawfully parked.

No. A13-0610 (Minn. Aug. 20, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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