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Protect Yourself Against Police Tactics and Vehicle Searches

Posted on in Criminal Law

DuPage County criminal defense attorneysIf you or a loved one are stopped for a traffic violation and suspected of driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol (or for any other criminal offense), you will have several opportunities to make it either easier or more difficult for the police to gather evidence and the District Attorney to nail you with a “guilty” verdict. Remember, the goal of the police is to find evidence of your guilt.

Here are some tips to protect yourself against common police tactics related to vehicle searches, which are purposely employed to intimidate, mislead, or lure you into self-incrimination.

If Police Ask to Search Your Car Without Probable Cause, You Can Refuse

If you are stopped on a traffic violation, that does not give the police an automatic right to search your car.

Say you have been pulled over for speeding. After approaching your car window and scanning the interior of your car, the officer suspects you might have been consuming alcohol or marijuana while driving. But he sees nothing in plain sight that confirms his suspicion.

At this point, the officer may say something like, “I’d like to search your vehicle, okay?” Notice the way the question is posed. It sounds like the police have the legal authority to search regardless of your answer. In fact, they do not. So what do you do when asked to let the police search your car? A good response to that question is, “No, I do not consent to any searches.”

The police can, however, without your consent and without needing a warrant, bring out a drug-detection dog to sniff the exterior of the vehicle. This is considered equivalent to an officer looking through car windows to see what is in plain sight.

If Police Have Probable Cause, They Can Search Your Car Without Consent or a Warrant

Now consider an slightly different scenario. The officer glances into your car and sees something suspicious in plain sight, such as a firearm sticking out from under a seat that is not properly cased for transportation, open alcoholic beverage containers, or a strong smell of marijuana. (One specific exception is that a seatbelt use violation is not a legally sufficient cause to initiate a search.)

That sighting gives the officer probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, which now allows a search without your consent and without requiring a search warrant approved by a judge. The officer can now ask you to step out of the vehicle and then search the passenger compartment of your vehicle without your permission. At this point, you have to obey the police order to step out of the vehicle and stand wherever you are told. But you are certainly free to ask, “What is it that you think you saw that gives you a reason to believe I have something illegal in my vehicle?”

Another important point to note is this: While the officer may search the passenger compartment, any locked compartments, including the trunk, are generally off limits unless you give consent. Again, so as not to give the police unnecessary information, you are free to refuse consent to search those locked areas.

Police Can Search a Vehicle After an Arrest and Before Towing

Now let us move on to another scenario. Suppose the officer has gone through all the necessary preliminaries to arrest you for DUI or another criminal charge. When a driver or a passenger in a vehicle has been placed under arrest, the police now have the right to search the car without consent (725 ILCS 5/108-1). The trunk and any other compartment remain off-limits without the driver or car owner’s consent.

However, once you are arrested, your car is probably going to get towed to an impound lot unless you have a sober friend available to drive it. When the police order a car towed, they now have the right to search the entire vehicle for safety and security reasons.

Consult a Savvy Oak Brook DUI Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been arrested for DUI, talk to a knowledgeable DuPage County DUI defense lawyer before giving unnecessary information to the police. If the police search your vehicle, be sure to pay careful attention to what they are doing so that you can report the specifics to your lawyer.

The attorneys at McMahon Law Offices are uniquely prepared to defend you.  Our seasoned DuPage County DUI defense lawyers have worked on the other side of the judicial system, and we know how to counter most law enforcement and prosecutorial tactics. Call us 630-953-4400 to discuss the details of your case so that we can advise you on your best course of action.






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