Can Your Car Be Searched During a DUI Stop?
Every year, roughly 20 million motorists are stopped by the police. Some of these stops, which are often for DUIs, result in a police search of the vehicle. Since such a search could yield evidence of additional possible crimes, it’s important to understand your rights.
What Are Police Allowed to Search?
During a traffic stop, there are two distinct situations in which police have the ability and right to search the inside of your vehicle. First, police are allowed to search whatever they want provided that you give them the consent to do so. Second, police can search your vehicle if they have probable cause.
What Is Probable Cause?
When police are challenged in court for an illegal search, the nature of the probable cause is always up for debate. Probable cause means that police must have something that leads them to believe that you are engaged in criminal activity. In other words, they must have a belief that there is something in your car that is evidence of criminal activity. According to the Supreme Court, this must rise to the level of there being a “fair probability” or “substantial chance” that you are engaged in criminal activity.
Maintain Your Calm
If you are being pulled over for suspicion of DUI, you may not be in a position to exercise your best judgment. However, to the extent that you can, you must be prudent when officers are asking you questions and want to search your car. What you do during the stop can have lasting ramifications. If you permit the search, it does not matter that you were possibly inebriated at the time. The fruits of the search will be admissible in court unless very limited exceptions apply.
Say No When Asked
Police will generally ask you for permission before they search your car. This is because it is always easier for them to conduct a search if the driver has given consent. Your answer to this question should always be no. Many drivers think that they will be treated better by the police if they allow the officer to do whatever they wish. However, you should not make it easier on the officer to conduct a search. When saying no, make sure to remain respectful yet firm. If there is something incriminating in your car, your penalty will not be reduced simply because you let the police conduct a search.
Do Not Volunteer Information
You do not have to answer an officer’s question when they pull you over. This is questioning, and you have the legal right to have an attorney present when you are being questioned by the police. While many people are familiar with Miranda rights through TV shows and movies, they do not necessarily know how they work in operation. The only thing that you have to do when you’re pulled over for suspicion of DUI is to take a breathalyzer test. Outside of that, you are under no obligation to cooperate or provide any information to the arresting officer. If they do search your car, you certainly do not have to tell them where in your car something is located.
The Plain View Exception
Officers may go into your car if there is something that they can see in plain view. For example, if an officer sees a gun or drugs in the front seat of your car when they are speaking to you, it will generally be enough to be considered probable cause. This has to be immediately apparent to the officer. For example, if your car smells like marijuana when you are stopped, the officer has reason to execute a search of the car for drugs.
If you have been charged with a DUI offense, consider reaching out to an attorney. The law office of Denis Driscollin Parsippany, NJ, can help you deal with the various legal issues that may come up after an arrest. To learn more, call us today at (973) 585-6982.