If you’re pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), does this mean that the police officer can search your vehicle? The answer is no, except in certain circumstances. We’ll go over the times that Florida law enforcement can – and cannot – search your vehicle after a DUI stop.
You probably have a basic understanding of your constitutional rights and may know that the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that law enforcement cannot search you or your property and cannot make arrests without probable cause. But what is “probable cause” and when does it apply to DUI stops? Let’s take a deeper look.
Probable cause refers to a situation where a law enforcement officer may conduct a search or take a person into custody because they have reasonable grounds to do so. This may be a situation where an officer has witnessed a crime or has sufficient cause to believe that a crime is being committed. An example may be an officer who gains entry into a home after hearing screams that indicate that a person is being attacked. Another example may be an officer who can see what appears to be an illegal controlled substance in the backseat of a person’s car.
Unfortunately, the concept of probable cause is one that is not specifically defined in the U.S. Constitution. This means that the Supreme Court has clarified and interpreted it in different ways through the years. It also means that whether a search conducted at a DUI stop is deemed “reasonable” may be decided on an individual basis, based on the facts at hand.
Another scenario where law enforcement may search your vehicle is if you give them permission to do so. If you are stopped for DUI, the officer may ask if they can look in your trunk. While the officer may shine a light in the passenger seat and back seat to see what’s there, they cannot search your trunk unless you give your consent. If you say “yes” when the officer asks to search your vehicle, the search is considered legal regardless of whether there was a warrant or probable cause that a crime had been committed. Although each situation is different, the proper course of action is to politely refuse a search of your vehicle.
Florida police are granted the authority to search a car after a DUI stop if they have a warrant, but this is an unlikely scenario. They are more likely to try to establish probable cause or get a driver’s consent to a search.
Taking Inventory After Impoundment
If you’re pulled over for DUI or another offense and your vehicle is impounded, the police may take an inventory of everything in your vehicle. This inventory is done to make sure everything is accounted for when you pick your vehicle back up, and the police do not need a warrant or your permission to take inventory. If they find evidence that indicates you may have committed a crime, such as a weapon or controlled substance, the prosecuting attorney may try to use this evidence against you to support your DUI charges or even file additional charges against you.
Evidence Discovered at DUI Stops
The entire concept of law enforcement searching for evidence after a DUI stop may make you wonder why this is important in the first place. It is important because any evidence that is found could result in additional charges or may support DUI charges against you.
Some examples of potentially damning evidence in a vehicle may include:
- Illegal drugs or contraband
- Drug paraphernalia
- Stolen property
- Empty bottles of beer, wine, or hard alcohol
- Guns, knives, or ammunition
How Our Tampa DUI Defense Attorneys Can Help
When you look at all the ways your vehicle might be searched after a DUI stop, it might seem like the odds are stacked against you. However, you need to remember that you have the right to counsel. As Tampa DUI lawyers with decades of experience and more than 7,000 criminal cases successfully handled, we know how to challenge unreasonable searches. You may have allegedly given your consent, the officer may claim to have had probable cause, or they may have been conducting an inventory after your vehicle was impounded – we can still investigate and build a case that supports a reduction or dismissal of your charges. You’d be surprised to learn how a technicality or outright infringement of your constitutional rights can turn a case around.
For more information on DUI stops and police searches in Florida, contact our Tampa DUI attorneys at (813) 321-7323. Your initial consultation is free and private.