The answer to this question is interesting. Yes, suppose the police pull you over for a DUI, and they decide that they're going to arrest you because they believe they have probable cause that you are driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. In that case, they can impound your vehicle, and part of that impound is they are permitted to search it, obviously for safety reasons. They don't want to bring a dangerous vehicle into their impound lot.
So, that answers the question after the arrest. They cannot search your vehicle as part of a DUI investigation unless they're going to arrest you or see something in plain view that gives them an idea that something illegal is going on.
But what they can do is, when they pull you over for a DUI, they can shine their flashlight or look if it's daylight into your vehicle. If they see a half-drank bottle of alcohol, they could use that observation in their police report to support the argument that you've been drinking and driving.
Any other illegal activity they see can indeed be reported, and if they see something blatantly unlawful in there, like a gun or some drugs, they're going to be able to search the whole car, impound it and arrest you.
Police Asking For Consent To Search Vehicle
So, they are limited to what they can do, but one way they get around the limitation of not just being able to search every car they pull over is they ask people. Do they say you don't have anything illegal in here?
You don't mind if we search your car. Most of the time, people — because of the pressure of the situation and they're nervous and scared — give the police consent to search. Support is the best for the police because they can search all they want. After all, the person is allowing them to do it.
If you say you don't want them to search and don't have probable cause, they technically can't search. Unfortunately, they often try to get around this by just searching anyway or bringing dogs in to try and sniff out some drugs.
That would give them probable cause to be able to search. But, in your standard DUI pullover, they should just be asking you for your license. They can ask the usual questions. Suppose they smell alcohol on your breath and see that you're driving erratically and feel like you might be under the influence. In that case, they can ask you to take their field sobriety test and request you to blow into the Preliminary Alcohol Screening device.
You Have The Right To Refuse Search
You can refuse both if you want, but the police are certainly entitled to ask you. Then they will ask you a bunch of questions trying to figure out whether you're drinking and driving.
Trying to figure out whether you have your head on straight, but if they smell alcohol on your breath, you look like you've been drinking and driving, and they point-blank ask you how many drinks you've had, and you tell them that you've had any alcohol, that's it.
They're going to get you out of the car, and they're going to test you for driving under the influence. If they determine that you're under the influence of alcohol, then obviously they're going to arrest you, take you back to the station, do a blood test, do a breath test, depending on which one you choose, and then depending on what your result is, they will arrest you for a DUI.
They can get into your car if they can get that ability to arrest you because part of that arrest is if you have a car, they're allowed to impound the vehicle, and then they're able to search it. They don't have to search for it.
I've seen a lot of police officers just asking the person's permission to park their car on the side of the road, which is great because it saves the impound charges, and there's no reason for the police to search it at that point. It's a catch-22.
On the one hand, if you're cooperative with the police, answer all of their questions, and do everything they say, and you're under the influence of alcohol, you're probably going to be arrested for a DUI.
On the other hand, if you're nasty to them and don't cooperate with them, you're probably going to be arrested for a DUI, and they're going to do everything they can lawfully to cause issues for you, problems for you, keep you longer in jail.
So, if you have a situation and feel like the police illegally searched your car, then give us a call. We'll sit down and go over the whole scenario, and we'll let you know whether there was an illegal search.
But as it relates to DUIs, searches of vehicles often don't matter. In other words, just because they illegally searched your car doesn't mean they can't get you for a DUI.
Review of Your DUI Case
Now, suppose they find something in the vehicle that is a lynchpin for them to arrest you and convict you for a DUI, and they illegally searched your vehicle. In that case, the argument could be made because the search was illegal; anything they found can't be used against you because it would be the fruit of the poisonous tree — in other words, the fruit of their illegal search — and then we could keep that evidence out.
But in DUI cases, it's not what they're finding in the vehicle that's the problem. It's what they're seeing in your system — your blood alcohol level is a .08 or greater — that's the issue. That's the problem. If they illegally pull you over, that's a different story.
That you can get everything knocked out for, so first, you have to decide whether or not they illegally searched the car, and then you have to determine what that means to you and your case and the only way to do that.
Unless you've got Los Angeles DUI defense training background — it is to sit down with an attorney who has done this before, who has been in and out of the local courthouses and knows how to deal with these types of motions, knows that's lawful, knows what's not legal, knows the case law in Los Angeles and California and knows how to fight these illegal pullovers, illegal arrests, and illegal searches.