Will the Police Search Your Vehicle?

Interviewer: At a stop, will the police ask to search your vehicle before or after you’re arrested and do you have to consent?

It Is Not Common Practice to Search a Vehicle During a DUII Stop

Shannon: The police have to have a warrant to search. If you don’t have a warrant to search, then you need to have an exception to the warrant. One of the exceptions to the warrant is an automobile exception, if the automobile can be moved and they have probable cause that there’s evidence of a crime.

If the Police Have Probable Cause, They Will Search Your Vehicle

Most likely that’s not going to apply in a DUI investigation. The exception is when you step out of the vehicle and they pat you down for weapons, just for officer safety. If, at that time, the officer feels something and based on their experience, it is a marijuana pipe they’re feeling, or they know in experience that’s a syringe that they’re feeling. Or, if they look in the vehicle and they see a marijuana or paraphernalia such as a heroin spoon.

Interviewer: If illegal substances are in plain sight, or, again, they’re allowed to frisk you for officer safety, if it’s on your person that would warrant a search?

If Your Car Has to Be Towed, the Police Will Conduct an Inventory Search

Shannon: If they find something on your person that leads them to believe that there’s additional evidence inside the vehicle then they could potentially search your vehicle. Most likely, in a regular DUII, stop they’re not going to search your vehicle unless they tow it because if they tow it, then they’re going to have to do what’s called an inventory search.

They have to take an inventory of everything in the car to make sure that you’re not going to claim later, “I had my ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ CD stolen.”

Interviewer: If they arrest you, won’t they always tow your car, or what will happen?

Shannon: Sometimes you’ll be parked in where your car can stay there, and they won’t tow your car. You have some really cool officers that will say, “This person’s being really compliant, and they’re already going to be facing a lot of fines and fees. Let’s just park it right here. Make sure with the retail owner that it’s OK to leave it here or make sure wherever it is on the side street that it’s OK to leave it here.”

They can have somebody else come get it or get it later. The police may even ask, “Do you know anybody that can come get your car right now that’s sober and can come drive your car for you?” Oftentimes, they’ll let family members or friends take the vehicle for the person. If that doesn’t happen then your car is getting towed.

Interviewer: In regards to the search, they usually won’t ask to search your car or will they ask you just to see if you’ll consent?

Shannon: They will only ask to search your car if they have probable cause that there’s evidence of ongoing crime.

Interviewer: In reality, how often are you seeing that clients tell you the police wanted to search the car?

Shannon: Not very often, unless it was a drug crime. Unless the officer saw evidence of paraphernalia or saw evidence of narcotics on you, they’re not going to search your car for an alcohol DUII.

Shannon I. Wilson, Esq.

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