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Can Police Search My Car in a DUI Stop

To be brief, yes, but that answer does come with a few conditions that have to be considered in every situation.

Generally speaking, a law enforcement officer has to determine some manner of suspicious activity before attempting to pull over and question a driver for driving under the influence or engaging in a DUI. How an individual law enforcement officer makes that determination cannot be universally considered; what one person considers suspicious, another might find a routine. And the officer in question may be legally entitled to search your vehicle.

With that in mind, a person facing the possibility of a DUI accusation should remember several key points when facing the possibility of having their vehicle searched.

Probable Cause

Going back to the idea of “suspicious activity,” if the officer in question decides the activity of a suspected individual falls under the heading of probable cause, the officer may not require the use of a warrant to conduct a police search of your vehicle.

So what qualifies as probable cause? Depends on the officer, really. If the driver gets pulled over and then stumbles out of their vehicle while holding an empty can of beer, the officer will likely come to the conclusion the driver has been engaging in a DUI, which would provide probable cause to search the vehicle.

However, if the officer has been alerted of a separate crime and has been provided with information about the suspect for that crime, the officer could argue probable cause from that crime to justify searching a vehicle.

It needs to be stressed here that “probable cause” does not grant the officer the right to pull over anyone they want to bother. Any individual who believes a law enforcement officer used probable cause to unlawfully search their vehicle should contact an attorney as soon as possible.

Arrest

If the law enforcement officer has arrested an individual for a DUI, the officer may decide to search the vehicle as a matter of due diligence to the arrest in question. For example, the officer may search the vehicle to find any physical evidence of drinking while operating the vehicle. In those situations, a warrant may not be necessary to justify the search.

Consent

After pulling over an individual on suspicion of a DUI, the officer may seek the driver’s consent to search the vehicle. If the driver grants that request, the officer may proceed.

A refusal of consent by the driver does not equate to an admission of guilt, either. While the officer may notate in the incident report that the driver did not grant consent to search the vehicle, that refusal can be used as a defense if the driver feels the officer was conducting an illegal search of the vehicle.

In cases of consent, the driver has no obligation to cooperate with the request, and sometimes the best legal defense can be to politely and firmly remind those in the authority of your rights. The refusal has never equated to an admission of guilt.

If accused of a DUI or need to learn more? Contact The Clarke Law Firm today.