Can the Police Search My Car If I’m Pulled Over for DWI?

Dallas criminal lawyer John Helms answers questions related to DWI when searched by police. 

When you are stopped by the police for suspected drunk driving, it’s normal to feel nervous. For many people, this kind of stop is the first time interacting with police in any scenario, except for maybe a routine speeding ticket. 

Nerves and fear may lead people to inadvertently give up their legal rights. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the fact that police officers are not obligated to tell you of your right to refuse some of their requests. When the police make something sound like an order or request, the majority of people will comply because they mistakenly believe they have no choice. 

However, the police don’t have an automatic right to search your car during a DWI stop or any kind of traffic stop. In some cases, an improper vehicle search can prompt the court to throw out evidence gathered during the search. Without enough evidence to support its case, the prosecution may even have to drop the charges. 

Your Right to Refuse a Vehicle Search at a DWI Stop

When the police pull you over on a suspicion of drunk driving — or for any reason — they might ask if they can search your vehicle.

However, the police are not permitted to search the inside of your car unless they have probable cause to do so. The law requires a police officer to have a reasonable belief that the person they’ve stopped has committed a crime. 

This is true for all traffic stops — not just a drunk driving stop. Before a police officer can search inside your vehicle, they must have a reason to believe that a driver is engaged in criminal activity. For example, if an officer stopped you for simply rolling through a stop sign, the officer can’t search your car. 

On the other hand, if a police officer stops you for a broken taillight and then smells marijuana in your car, it’s reasonable for the officer to believe you’ve been smoking marijuana inside your vehicle. In that instance, a search of the car would be proper.

Plain View Exception 

There are exceptions to this general rule. For example, if a police officer stops you for speeding and sees drugs lying on your front seat, the officer could search your vehicle because the drugs were in “plain view” from the outside of the car. 

Generally, when someone is pulled over for a suspected DWI, the police will not have a reason to search the person’s vehicle. If you are stopped by the police, it’s important to know your rights.

You have the right to decline a search of your vehicle unless the police officer has a reasonable belief that you’ve committed a crime. If an officer asks to search your vehicle, you have the right to ask what the officer is basing their reasonable belief on, which requires the officer to tell you why they’re conducting the search. 

There are other exceptions to the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. It’s important to discuss your case with a Texas criminal defense lawyer to make sure you take advantage of all the defenses available in your case. 

Police Vehicle Searches After an Arrest

In some cases, it’s possible to question the validity of a vehicle search conducted after the police have taken someone into custody for a DWI.

While the police might claim they were simply performing an inventory search, they should only be doing this type of search if they are going to impound a person’s vehicle. In that case, the police department should have standard procedures for taking inventory of the vehicle’s contents in order to keep the items safe from possible theft. 

A roadside search of the vehicle, while the driver is in handcuffs or in the back of a police car, can raise questions about the validity of the search. If the police want to search the car, they need to have probable cause based on a reasonable belief that the person committed a crime and that evidence proving that crime is in the car, or they need to be able to justify it as an inventory search. In certain situations, people may face additional charges for crimes that were discovered during a police search of their vehicle during a DWI stop. In other cases, the police may choose to detain a person while they obtain an emergency search warrant from the court. Assuming the warrant is valid, a search conducted pursuant to the warrant is most likely also valid. 

If the police searched a car under circumstances that might make the search illegal, and if they seized evidence pursuant to this type of search, it may be possible for the defendant’s DWI defense lawyer to file a motion to suppress the evidence. If the court grants the motion, the evidence is not allowed to be included in the prosecution’s case. 

Talk to a Texas DWI Defense Lawyer About Your Case

If you have been arrested for a suspected DWI, you have important rights. Protect them by talking to a Texas DWI defense lawyer about your case. Contact a Dallas experienced criminal defense lawyer like attorney John Helms in Dallas at (214) 666-8010.

Texas DWI Defense Attorney John Helms

Tel: (214) 666-8010