Navigating a DUI traffic stop in California can be nerve-wracking and confusing. The state requires drivers to have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.07% or lower and be over the age of 21 years old. It is important to understand your rights, especially when it comes to police searching your vehicle.
Consider the circumstances under which a police officer in California can legally search your vehicle during a DUI stop.
The premise for a vehicle search
During a DUI traffic stop, a police officer does not automatically have the right to search your vehicle. They must have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime. This might include visible evidence of illegal substances, open containers of alcohol or the smell of marijuana emanating from your vehicle.
If an officer has reasonable suspicion, they can conduct what the law calls a ‘protective search’ of the vehicle. This search is generally limited to common areas for weapons. The intent is to ensure officer safety, not to gather evidence for a DUI case.
Consent and its implications
If a police officer does not have a clear probable cause, they might ask for your consent to search the vehicle. You have the right to refuse such a request. If you do consent, however, the courts can use any evidence found during the search against you in court.
Vehicle impoundment and inventory searches
If the police arrest you for a DUI and impound your vehicle, the police can perform an ‘inventory search.’ This search records the contents of your vehicle and aims to protect your property, as well as shield the police from liability for lost or stolen items. Any evidence discovered during an inventory search may be admissible in court.
Even though you might feel stressed or anxious, remember that you have the right to refuse a vehicle search in the absence of probable cause. Your awareness of these laws can provide a layer of protection and might influence the outcome of your case.