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DUI Defense: Evidence Found in Your Car

You or someone you know may be stopped and arrested along the roadside for suspicion of DUI or drunk driving. At this point, the police will most likely have ordered everyone away from the vehicle, conducted pat-down searches, placed the driver in handcuffs and put the driver in the squad car.

After the driver is locked in the patrol car, the police officers will often search the car. Sometimes police discover evidence to use against you in court and at the DMV hearing to enhance your DUI charges or to use to convince the prosecutor to file additional criminal charges.

You need experienced DUI attorneys who have the talent to analyze the prosecution's evidence and recognize these Fourth Amendment issues to help you win your case.

The Fourth Amendment protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."  The Fourth Amendment generally requires police to secure a warrant before conducting a search as searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by a judge, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

There are a few specifically established exceptions to this warrant requirement.

1. A warrantless search of an automobile, incident to arrest is one of those exceptions.

When a policeman has made a lawful arrest of the occupants of a car she may search the passenger area of that car. During the search, the police officer may also examine the contents of any container within your reach.

You need skilled DUI attorneys who have the ability to recognize the limitations to this exception. In 2009, The United States Supreme Court added limitations to the search incident to arrest that may have a profound impact on law enforcement. A search incident to arrest may only include the arrestee's person and the area "within his immediate control" -- this means the area from within which you might gain possession of a weapon or destroy evidence.

If there is no possibility that you could have reached into the area that law enforcement officers seek to search, both justifications for the search-incident-to-arrest exception do not exist and the search incident to arrest rule does not apply. If the prosecutor has used this justification for the warrantless search of your car, the exclusionary rule should be applied.

2. A warrantless search of your car may be permitted under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment. If there is probable cause for believing that an automobile contains contraband, California police officers are entitled to search it.  A search is also valid if there is probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime in the automobile.

The automobile exception is grounded in two basic principles: (1) the mobility of vehicles, and (2) the expectation of privacy in one's vehicle is less than in one's home. However, as the United States Supreme Court has said, although a motorist's privacy interest in his car is less substantial than in his home, the former interest is nevertheless important and deserving of constitutional protection.

3. If there is probable cause to believe a vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity, a search of any area of the vehicle in which the evidence might be found is authorized. Searches for evidence relevant to offenses other than the offense of arrest are authorized, and the scope of the search authorized is broader.

Probable cause exists "where the known facts and circumstances are sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable prudence in the belief that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found." In determining the existence of probable cause, the trial court must examine the totality of the circumstances.

If you have been charged with a DUI contact our experienced DUI attorneys that can protect your rights including your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

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