PROCEEDING ON CERTIORARI Lisa B. Riley, District Judge
H. Balderas, Attorney General Jane A. Bernstein, Assistant
Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Petitioner
Works, LLC John A. McCall Albuquerque, NM for Respondent
K. NAKAMURA, Chief Justice.
This case concerns the inventory search exception to the
warrant requirement. The Court of Appeals concluded that the
inventory search that occurred in this case was invalid
because Defendant Wesley Davis did not possess the backpack
searched at the time of arrest as the backpack was not
"on his person or in his physical possession . . .
." State v. Davis, 2016-NMCA-073, ¶¶
1, 10-11, 387 P.3d 274. We disagree that possession in the
inventory search context should be so narrowly construed. We
embrace a broader definition of possession, conclude that
Davis did possess the backpack at the time of arrest, and
hold that the inventory search was valid. The Court of
Appeals is reversed.
On January 12, 2012, Deputy Daniel Vasquez of the Eddy County
Sheriff's Department (Sheriff's Department) arrested
Davis for operating a motorcycle when his license had been
revoked. During the traffic stop, Deputy Vasquez searched
Davis's backpack and discovered marijuana. Davis was
charged with one count of distribution of marijuana, a
violation of NMSA 1978, Section 30-31-22(A)(1)(a) (2011).
Davis filed a motion to suppress the marijuana on December
18, 2012. A suppression hearing was held on April 10, 2013.
At that hearing, Deputy Vasquez provided the following
While on patrol in a marked vehicle, Deputy Vasquez saw Davis
on a motorcycle at a stop sign. Deputy Vasquez knew Davis did
not have a valid driver's license and began to follow
Davis. After traveling a short distance, Davis pulled into
the driveway of his home. Davis's property is within the
city limits of Carlsbad, New Mexico and there are other
houses adjacent to Davis's property.
Davis parked his motorcycle, took off his backpack, and
placed it on top of a car parked in Davis's open-air
carport, a structure with a back wall but no front or side
walls. Deputy Vasquez had parked in Davis's driveway
behind Davis's motorcycle and the two men met in the
driveway between the motorcycle and carport.
Deputy Vasquez asked Davis for his license and registration
and then contacted dispatch and learned that Davis's
license was in fact revoked with an arrest clause. Deputy
Vasquez arrested Davis, patted him down, and asked Davis
"if there was anything in the backpack that [he] needed
to be aware about." Davis responded that there was
marijuana in the backpack. Deputy Vasquez walked to the
carport, seized the backpack, searched it, and discovered
three plastic bags containing marijuana.
Deputy Vasquez asked Davis about the backpack because the
backpack had been on Davis's person and there might have
been valuables in the backpack. When asked if he thought the
backpack was "secured, " Deputy Vasquez stated that
an open-air carport is not a secure location to leave an
unattended bag. During his testimony, Deputy Vasquez
acknowledged that the backpack was not on Davis's person
at the time of his arrest.
The Sheriff's Department has a policy that any belongings
in a person's possession at the time of an arrest must be
inventoried, regardless of whether or not they have value.
Deputy Vasquez stated that "anything on your person is
gonna' go with you when you're arrested." The
Sheriff's Department's inventory search policy exists
to ensure that the Sheriff's Department has adequate
records, to protect the Sheriff's Department, and to
ensure that an arrestee's property is protected. The
policy does not differentiate between inventory searches
occurring on private versus public property.
The district court found that Davis's backpack was not
secure at the time of the arrest but was on top of a car in
an open-air carport. The court explained that "[i]t
would be very easy for somebody to walk by and grab a
backpack from off of the top of a vehicle which is not a
normal place for storing a backpack." The court
concluded that Deputy Vasquez's warrantless search of
Davis's backpack was a valid inventory search and denied
the motion to suppress. Davis then entered into a conditional
plea in which he agreed to plead guilty to the distribution
charge but reserved his right to appeal the order denying his
suppression motion. Davis, 2016-NMCA-073, ¶ 2.
The Court of Appeals reversed the district court's order,
concluding that the warrantless search was not a valid
inventory search. Id. ¶¶ 1, 17. We granted
the State's petition for a writ of certiorari-exercising
our jurisdiction under Article VI, Section 3 of the New
Mexico Constitution and NMSA 1978, Section 34-5-14(B)
(1972)-to decide whether the warrantless search was a valid
inventory search or not.