Officers have a right to search your vehicle under many conditions at a DUI traffic stop, and could potentially seize evidence against you.
The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is perhaps the most widely misunderstood right. If you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI, this right does protect you—but only to a limit.
It’s important to understand what constitutes a search or seizure:
- Search means the officer looks through or into an area of the car that is not in plain visible sight from outside.
- Seizure means taking an item from you or your car because it is believed to be evidence—such as an open bottle or marijuana found in the vehicle.
In general, an officer cannot perform a search unless you give permission. But they may not need to. If they can clearly see incriminating evidence in the car, like beer cans on the floor, they can arrest you immediately. Similarly, if they have any reason to believe you’re dangerous or that you might have a weapon, they can order you to step out of the car and frisk your person (look for weapons) without your permission. If they find incriminating evidence during this frisk, you will be arrested.
In other cases, an officer will find “probable cause” to search without your permission. This means they have a strong reason to believe you committed a crime. Examples of probable cause include:
- They smell marijuana in the vehicle.
- They saw you throw something out the window.
- They saw you try to hide something in the vehicle.
Finally, if an officer decides to arrest you, your car will likely be towed and impounded. At that point the officer can conduct an “inventory search” of the car. Any evidence they find can be used against you. They can also search your person during the arrest.
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.