If a vehicle is to be impounded in New Jersey, does a driver or passenger have the right to remove personal possessions from the vehicle before the impoundment or inventory search? According to the New Jersey Supreme Court, occupants of an impounded motor vehicle maintain the right to make suitable arrangements for their personal possessions prior to an inventory search of an impounded motor vehicle. In State v. Mangold, the Court held that police have an affirmative duty to provide the vehicle’s occupants a reasonable opportunity to remove personal effects from an impounded motor vehicle prior to an inventory search. This assumes that the owner or other responsible individual is present at the time of the lawful impoundment. If this is the case, absent consent by the owner or other responsible party, the impounded vehicle may not be subject to an inventory search. In such cases, the owner or other responsible person will be presumed to have assumed the risk for any claims of loss or theft arising from the impoundment.
The rights afforded to the owners and operators of motor vehicles that are subject to an inventory search following an impoundment are based on Article 1, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution and are intended to afford people in New Jersey enhanced protection. Both the initial impoundment and the subsequent inventory search must be lawful. Also, the enhanced protections under the New Jersey Constitution apply even when the vehicle is impounded for the purpose of civil forfeiture.