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Impounding a Car or Inventory Search in a California DUI Case

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 vehicle, and of course, if an individual is carrying contraband in that vehicle then it puts the person in a bad position because the police are able to 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 justify what they call an inventory search of the vehicle.  What an inventory search is they get to go through the whole vehicle to check to see what's in there.

They obviously don't want to be putting a vehicle in their impound lot if it has explosives or something dangerous in it.  That's how they get to justify the inventory search.

The triggering key is, when can they impound a vehicle versus when they need to just leave the vehicle alone, and that has to do with being able to arrest the person.

So, if they're able to arrest somebody and that person has a vehicle, the police have a choice of whether or not to impound the vehicle or whether they just want to leave it safely parked or let some relative or family member drive the vehicle home.

So, that's one of the big issues in a case whether or not the police are able to arrest you.  Let's say they pull you over for tinted windows or some moving violation.  They really shouldn't be allowed to arrest 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 vehicle 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.

Impounding a Car or Inventory Search in a California DUI Case

Now they probably have the ability to 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 just 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 between them having the ability to search your car, versus not having the ability to search your car.

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 really 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, and therefore, anything that 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.

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