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UNITED STATES v. HILL

July 10, 1978

UNITED STATES of America
v.
Clinton HILL



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CORCORAN

On November 2, 1977 defendant was operating in the District of Columbia a rented vehicle bearing a temporary Pennsylvania license tag. Two Metropolitan Police Officers, observing that the expiration date of the tag was illegible, made a traffic stop of the vehicle and asked defendant to produce his license and registration.

 While defendant was in the process of procuring the car registration from the glove compartment, one of the officers observed a pistol therein. The defendant was then advised of his rights against self-incrimination and was thereafter arrested for carrying a pistol without a license.

 Because the temporary tags were illegible and therefore invalid they were removed from the vehicle. Without the tag the vehicle could not be left standing on the public way *fn1" and accordingly was taken to the Third District Station and impounded.

 Subsequently, the car rental company (which apparently had been contacted by defendant's wife) called the police and obtained permission to pick up the vehicle.

 In anticipation of the vehicle's being returned to the car rental company, and in accordance with standard Metropolitan Police Department procedures, the police conducted an inventory search of the automobile. It included a search of its locked trunk. Inside the trunk, the police discovered an open blue zippered flight bag which, when searched, revealed: (1) a closed knapsack which in turn contained a loaded weapon and a quantity of heroin, and (2) a second loaded weapon found lying on the bottom of the flight bag. When defendant was made aware of these discoveries, he made a number of incriminating statements with respect to both the weapons and the heroin.

 II. The Arrest of the Person

 Defendant does not, and indeed under the circumstances could not, dispute the propriety of the initial stopping of his vehicle and the request for his license and registration. *fn2"

 However, defendant asserts that, having produced his license and registration, the subsequent search of the glove compartment resulting in the discovery of the unregistered pistol contained therein was improper. In view of the chronology of events leading to this discovery, we find this argument without merit. For it is the undisputed testimony of the arresting officers that the weapon was first noticed in the glove compartment when it was opened by defendant to secure the registration. Accordingly, their subsequent request that defendant again open the glove compartment, the seizure of the weapon, and defendant's arrest resulting therefrom were all clearly proper.

 III. Impoundment of the Vehicle

 The Government cites the following facts as justifying the impounding of defendant's vehicle: (1) The illegible temporary tags which formed the basis for the initial stop were removed and seized as evidence in support of the stop and because they were invalid. (2) Without tags the vehicle could not lawfully be left standing on the public way. D.C.Code ยง 40-104(a)(1). We find these facts properly supported impoundment of the vehicle.

 IV. Inventory Search

 The legality of the inventory search conducted here requires a discussion of two issues: (1) the propriety of the search Vel non and (2) assuming its propriety, was the search of the flight ...


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