DUI: Can the Police Search My Vehicle?

If you’re stopped by the police and they suspect that you’re driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, do they have the right to search your vehicle for an open container of alcohol, drugs, or stolen goods? What are your rights in the event of a warrantless search and seizure during a routine DUI stop?

As a rule, warrantless search and seizures are not legally acceptable unless the circumstances are such that they conform to a well-established warrant “exception.” In other words, the situation does not legally require a search warrant. So, when can the police search your vehicle without a warrant? Here are some of the exceptions to the warrant requirement:

1. Consent. This is straightforward. Essentially, the police ask you if they can search your vehicle and you willingly consent to the search by saying something to the effect of, “Sure, go ahead,” or “Yes, you can search my vehicle; I have nothing to hide.”

2. The plain view doctrine. If something is in plain view to the police it gives them the green light to search your vehicle without a warrant. For example, if you open the glovebox to grab your registration and a baggy of cocaine falls out and the officer sees it, he or she has the right to search your vehicle on the spot.

3. Search incident to arrest. Once a suspect is arrested for driving under the influence, the police can search the suspect’s vehicle if they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle may contain evidence connected to the arrest. The police can also search the arrestee’s vehicle if he or she is unsecured, and the suspect can reach the passenger compartment while the search is being conducted.

4. Inventory searches. If you are arrested for DUI, the police can conduct what’s called an “inventory search” on your vehicle. The purpose of this type of warrantless search is to list your belongings; this is supposed to prevent you from accusing the police of theft or criminal damage.

Do you feel that the police obtained evidence against you through illegal means? If so, contact my firm to discuss your DUI case and the suppression of evidence.

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