They do not have the right to search your vehicle without a search warrant unless you consent to that search. A lot of people do. The officer will say, “Do you mind if I search your car?” The person will then say, “Sure, go ahead.” In that case, you’ve just waived the requirement of them needing a warrant, and now it’s called a consensual search.
They also have the right to search your car if you are under a valid arrest, and that’s called the search incident to arrest. It’s also called an inventory search, because once you’re placed under arrest, then they have the right to impound your car, and when they have the right to impound your car, then they can take an inventory of what’s in your car, which allows them to do a search then.
In general, though, I would not consent to the search of your vehicle. Don’t make things easier for them. With a caveat to that, don’t be rude about it either, because it never pays to be combative with the police.
Once they arrest you or if your car is automatically towed or taken to an impound, do they have access to your car then, and do they typically search your car and charge you for anything additional like an opened bottle or something like that?
Yes. If you’ve been arrested for a DUI, they’re almost always going to search your car. What they’re really looking for are drugs and weapons and things like that. If you have an open bottle, typically that’ll be in a cup holder, and they’ll be able to see it, and they can seize illegal things that are within the plain view of the officer. So they would usually write you up for an open intoxicant ticket if it is seen in your car while they’re in the process of arresting you, but yes, they will almost always search your car if you’ve been arrested.
You mentioned that if there is an accident or something to that effect, police are brought to the scene. In that case, are they automatically looking for things such as alcohol or drugs? Is that typically how those scenarios go?
If there is an accident where someone’s been seriously injured, then they will usually try to do at least a cursory investigation of whether drugs or alcohol are involved. In a normal rear-end accident where there’s just some property damage or vehicle damage, they’re not necessarily suspicious unless something’s happened that makes them suspicious. That might include the way that person acts, the way they talk, the way they move, or anything else that, based on the experience of the officer, makes him think you’ve been drinking and driving. It’s more based on the experience and intuition of the officer than anything else.
In your experience, do you think the time of day might be a factor in whether or not they’re going to be suspicious?
Yes. Obviously, if you’re pulled over and it’s 10 o’clock at night or later, the police are always wondering whether or not you’ve been drinking. The later it is, the more suspicious they’re going to be that alcohol is involved. There have been some statistics put out there that say that, after midnight, 50 percent of the people who are on the road have had something to drink, and the cops are well aware of all that stuff as well.
In addition, medical marijuana has become a lot more prevalent, and the marijuana that’s out there is a lot stronger in smell than what it used to be. So a lot of times, the police will stop someone for a routine traffic stop and they can smell even a small amount of the marijuana that’s around now inside the car. That will lead to their own further investigation and sometimes a search of the vehicle.
For more information on DUI and vehicle searches in Michigan, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you’re seeking by calling (248) 451-2200 today.