You may have heard that the police have the right to search your house and your car whenever they want if you’re on probation. The truth is that being on probation doesn’t always give blanket permission to the police to search your effects. The police’s ability to search your car will depend heavily on the type of probation you were sentenced to serve.
If you believe the police may have searched your car improperly and found evidence of an open container or DUI, you have the right to challenge any evidence they gathered in court. Call (310) 896-2724 to schedule a free case evaluation for a leading DUI lawyer.
Formal probation is given to individuals who have been convicted of committing a felony in California. If you are given formal probation following a felony conviction, you are assigned a probation officer with whom you must meet regularly as part of your release. In addition, you must sign a waiver acknowledging the police’s right to conduct warrantless searches of your person, your home, and your car.
While you don’t completely erase your Fourth Amendment protection under this agreement, the police have wide latitude to conduct searches on your home and car. In U.S. v. King, the Ninth Circuit upheld a ruling which found that individuals on formal probation have a lower expectation of privacy and therefore can be subjected to searches more easily.
Informal probation, also known as summary probation, is given to individuals in California for misdemeanor criminal offenses. Rather than working closely with a parole officer, individuals on summary probation are required to check in with the court on a regular basis.
With informal probation, you are not required to submit to warrantless searches in the same way as individuals with formal probation. However, you might still be subject to warrantless searches of your car on informal probation.
Other Warrantless Searches of Your Car
People on informal probation have the same expectations of privacy and protections as individuals without any probation status. However, there are circumstances in which an officer may search your car without a warrant.
Officers may search your car if you give them permission to do so. An officer may not phrase the request to search your car clearly, but will have the freedom to investigate your vehicle once you affirm that they may. This search may include the passenger area, your trunk, and any containers in the vehicle.
If you deny an officer the chance to search your car, that is not grounds to be arrested. If you’re asked for permission to search your vehicle, even if the officer suggests that a search may clear you of suspicion, you are allowed to politely decline the request.
Probable Cause of Containing Evidence/Contraband
An officer may conduct a warrantless search of your car if they have probable cause to believe you are carrying evidence or contraband within the car. Under the Carroll Doctrine, an officer may search your vehicle if:
- They have articulable facts (i.e., probable cause) that suggest that there is evidence or contraband within your car
- Your car is able to move, which could impact the ability of the officer to obtain a warrant before the evidence or contraband is taken away
If an eyewitness tells the police that they witnessed you drinking from an open container, that testimony may be used to search your vehicle for evidence.
Incident to an Arrest
If you are pulled over and arrested, the officer likely has the right to conduct a search of your car. In this scenario, the officer may search the car for evidence relating to the crime. However, the evidence collected does not need to be for that crime. If you are arrested for a DUI and the officer finds both an open container and an unlicensed firearm, the officer may collect both.
Inventorying an Impounded Vehicle
When a vehicle is impounded by the police, they must know what is in the vehicle at the time it is brought to the lot. This means taking an inventory of the contents of the car. Evidence gathered at this stage, which also does not require a warrant or a probation waiver, may be used against you in any criminal proceeding.
Protect Your Rights by Speaking with a DUI Lawyer
While there are broad rules for the police to search your car, the unique facts of your case may alter which rules apply. Being on probation may or may not affect your right to a secure vehicle.
If you’ve been arrested for a DUI and are concerned that your car was searched improperly, call (310) 896-2724 as soon as possible to speak with an experienced lawyer for free. A DUI lawyer may be able to have the evidence, including open containers, suppressed from your trial.