This is a big issue when it comes to searching vehicles in DUI cases because it gives the police an opportunity to justify conducting a full-blown search of a car. Of course, suppose an individual is carrying contraband in that vehicle. In that case, it puts the person in a wrong position because the police can find the contraband and charge the person with whatever they're alleged to be possessing.
Justifying Vehicle Impound and Search
So, the question becomes, what can justify impounding a vehicle or what can explain what they call an inventory search of the car. An inventory search is that they get to go through the whole vehicle to check to see what's in there.
They don't want to put a vehicle in their impound lot if it has explosives or something dangerous. That's how they get to justify the inventory search.
The triggering key is when they can impound a vehicle versus when they need just to leave the car alone, and that has to do with being able to arrest the person.
So, suppose they're able to arrest somebody, and that person has a vehicle. In that case, the police have a choice of whether or not to impound the car or whether they want to leave it safely parked or let some relative or family member drive the vehicle home.
So, that's one of the significant issues in a case, whether or not the police can arrest you. Let's say they pull you over for tinted windows or some moving violation. They really shouldn't be allowed to stop you.
They really shouldn't be allowed to impound or do an inventory search on your vehicle. They shouldn't be able to search your car at all just for some moving violation.
Probable Cause to Make an Arrest
But on the other hand, when they pull you over and they're going to get you for those moving violations, and they ask you for your driver's license, and you don't have a driver's license, that now creates a problem.
Now they probably can arrest you, and that will justify them being able to search the car because they're going to be able to impound it and do an inventory search on it.
Same thing if you get arrested for a DUI. You green-lighted the police to search your home car, inventory it, check everything in there.
So, there is a fine line between them just issuing you a ticket and them having the ability to search your car versus not having the ability to search your vehicle.
Every time the police pull somebody over — especially if it's a DUI investigation — they want to search the car. They want to see what's in there. Do you have drugs? Do you have weapons? Do you have open alcohol containers?
Is there anything else in there that they can use that's contraband to get extra charges filed against you? That's what they're going to be trying to do.
Lawyer to Evaluate Possible Illegal Search & Seizure
So, if you've got a situation where the police searched your vehicle and didn't have probable cause to do so, and you didn't give them consent to do so, obviously pick up the phone. Call me.
You're going to need representation in the case, and you're going to need an attorney to evaluate whether or not you have an issue related to an illegal search — a violation of your Constitutional Fourth Amendment Rights.
So, we can argue that that search was illegal. Therefore, anything they found in the car — weapons, drugs, whatever the case may be — is what they call “fruit of the poisonous tree,” and that fruit can't be used against you because they violated your Constitutional rights.
Without that fruit, without that information, without whatever they found in there, they don't have a case a lot of the time. In other words, a probable cause defense strategy.
Even in DUI's where they stop you, and the stop is illegal, anything they get after that — your breath, your responses, your field sobriety results — all of that can be thrown out if it's an illegal stop.
So, be alert for these impound/inventory search issues in DUI cases under California Vehicle Code 23152. I'm more than happy to talk to you about it if you're looking for an attorney to represent you.