When Can Police Search Your Car After a DUI Stop?

Posted by Richard Lawson | Apr 13, 2018 | 0 Comments

It is never a good idea to transport contraband or illegal items if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Why? If you are arrested, police will undoubtedly search your vehicle. A Floyd County man recently learned this the hard way when, after being pulled over on suspicion of DUI, police discovered cocaine and marijuana in his car. The man is now facing criminal charges for DUI and possession of controlled substances. Making the decision to drive drunk exposed his criminal behavior to police.

DUI and Police Searches

The Fourth Amendment places limitations on when, where, and how police can search you and your property. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects you from “unreasonable searches and seizures”—and that protection applies to your vehicle. That means that in many cases, you do not have to allow the police to search your car. However, there are three main ways that a police search can be conducted.

  1. Consent
  2. Subject to probable cause
  3. Incident to a lawful arrest

If you are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, chances are you won't be giving your consent to search the car. However, police may be able to search your car if there is probable cause that you have violated the law or if you are arrested for DUI.

Probable Cause

When can probable cause exist and authorize police to search you and your vehicle? In Georgia, you do not necessarily have to fail a chemical test to be arrested for DUI. Police have the discretion to assess a situation to determine if you are intoxicated. This includes analyzing specific details about your conduct, physical appearance, and behavior. Any of the following could be used as probable cause that you are drunk.

  • The smell of alcohol on your breath or clothing
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusing and difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired physical mobility

If police have probable cause to believe that alcohol is in the car--either because the car smells like alcohol or there are open containers in sight--they may lawfully perform a search. The search can include you, your passengers, items in plain sight, as well as items tucked away in the glove compartment, center console, or trunk. The police may even search bags and other personal belongings.

Incident to Arrest

When you are arrested for DUI, police have broader authority to search your car. Your car will likely be impounded at the time your arrest. When it is placed in police custody it will be subject to an inventory search. This basically means police investigators will go through all of your belongings and make a list of everything that is in the car. Anything illegal that is discovered can lead to additional criminal charges.

Contesting DUI Searches

If police find contraband in your vehicle during a DUI-stop search, you will likely be charged with more than driving under the influence. It is important to understand that there are limits on when and how police can perform a lawful search. If police discover contraband or evidence of criminal behavior during an unlawful search, the state should not be permitted to benefit.

It is important to contact an experienced Georgia DUI attorney immediately after an arrest. A thorough investigation of the traffic stop and police conduct will help to determine if your Constitutional rights have been violated. If police performed an illegal search, your DUI attorney will fight to have any tainted evidence excluded from criminal proceedings against you. Without evidence, the state will be forced to offer a plea or drop the charges against you.

Contact Us

Need help fighting your DUI or believe your vehicle was searched under questionable circumstances? Contact us to set up a free consultation and learn about your legal rights. Our Georgia DUI Lawyers have over 25 years of experience defending Georgia drivers. They know how to defend against unlawful searches and use that information to get your case dismissed or charges reduced. Don't waste any time in calling us. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer your call. Call now. 

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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