The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects you against any illegal search and seizure (including arrest) by the government. But in traffic arrests following a DUI-DWI stop and investigation, a different kind of search and seizure takes place in almost all cases. If no “sober” driver is available to drive your vehicle away, it will likely be towed, by order of the police. A search done prior to your vehicle being towed away (called an “inventory search”) is supposed to be done to assure that if valuables inside the vehicle disappear while the vehicle is impounded, the police department will not be held accountable.
Types of Contraband Items
Because almost every custodial DUI-DWI arrest leads to a vehicle impound and an “inventory search” of your vehicle by the police, you should NEVER KEEP any contraband items in your vehicle. The most common contraband items found are:
- Illegal drugs such as cocaine and marijuana
- Prescription painkillers or anti-anxiety medications that are not in a proper container
- Prescription medications that are prescribed to someone not in the vehicle
- Child pornography
- An unlicensed weapon
- An illegal (profane) bumper sticker
- Stolen merchandise
Any illegal items found inside your vehicle will be collected and added to police evidence. During a DUI investigation, an officer may ask you to take a DUI breath test, perform voluntary field sobriety tests, and capture the entire video and audio of your arrest on the DUI police video.
What to Avoid
Certainly, anything illegal or contraband that is “in plain sight” within or on your vehicle (such as an illegal attachment or faulty piece of equipment) can be cited by the police as justification for a further search, and used against you in your DUI case. At the time of your arrest, the police follow certain search and seizure laws to search not only you, but also the passenger compartment and any containers found in the passenger compartment of your vehicle. The purpose of such a search and seizure is typically justified by claiming it was needed to determine if other evidence of the DUI criminal act is present. Thus the courts have held that this is not an unreasonable search and seizure.
If you wreck your vehicle and leave it off the shoulder of the road, the police may be able to legally search your vehicle without a warrant. The existence of the wrecked vehicle will authorize a search for victims, or identification of the owner of the vehicle. Even a purse found inside an abandoned vehicle can be searched. These acts are not classified as unlawful search and seizure.
Contacting a Lawyer
Having a police dog sniff your stopped vehicle, as long as it does not delay the process of you being ticketed, is not an illegal search. This is why you should never have ANY illegal drugs in your vehicle, in case your routine speeding ticket is being issued by an officer who just happens to have a drug-sniffing dog in his or her vehicle. A K9 unit at a DUI checkpoint can happen at any time.
Therefore, it is important to have a local DUI lawyer to talk your case over with you and advise you on the best DUI defense strategies to pursue.