At a DUI Checkpoint, are Police Allowed to Search Your Car?

An illegal search could lead to your case being dismissed. But, do you know when it is legal to search your car? If you do not know, do not feel alone. Most of us do not know when a police officer is within their rights to search our car. Many times, when an officer asks, “You don’t have anything to hide do you? May I search your car?” We almost automatically start shaking our head to the affirmative because we do not have anything to hide. But, was the answer to the first question really yes? We have all seen the police shows on television where the guy or gal is pulled out of their car and cuffed for telling a police officer they do not have the right to search their car. In a belligerent voice, they proclaim their knowledge of the Fourth Amendment and that it is a violation of their rights as a citizen of the United States to search their vehicle without consent. It is more likely the belligerence than their knowledge of the Constitution that got them handled a little rougher than necessary.

We support our police and their efforts to curb lawlessness, but there is a right way and a wrong way. There are two “right ways,” two legal reasons they can legally search your car. And, those are probable cause and direct consent. And, no matter what is true, if you act belligerent to some police officers who have been on the job all day, are tired and irritable anyway, one of those two could become the truth. Fair or not, when they are twisting your arms around back to put on the handcuffs, “The truth will not set you free.”

Two Legal Reasons for a Search

  1. Consent

First, is if you say, “I have nothing to hide, you may search my car.” You just gave them permission to search and no matter what happens from that point on, you cannot change your mind. The correct thing to do there, would have been to politely state, “I have nothing to hide, but I would like to invoke my fourth amendment right. No, you may not search my car.” It is important to comply with the orders of the police officers at the checkpoint but you can respectfully decline their request for search. After you decline their request for search if they continue with the search, just let them, they are violating the law and anything they find will not be admissible in court because of the illegal search.

  1. Probable Cause

The second method for a legal search is when the officers have probable cause. Empty beer cans or bottles (either of these are an “open container” a class 2 misdemeanor), drug paraphernalia, the smell of marijuana, or the bark of a drug-sniffing dog is probable cause to search your vehicle. Yes, a DUI checkpoint could have drug-sniffing dogs on the scene or when they believe you have drugs in the vehicle, they could bring a drug dog to the scene. However, a police officer can only hold you there at the checkpoint for a “reasonable” period, except to get a search warrant. If they tell you to pull over into a parking area, then there is normally a specific reason for it and they should tell you what that is. But, once again if you get belligerent and demand to know why you are be kept waiting, things will probably get worse before they get better. The best approach is to treat the police officer with dignity and respect and they will probably treat you the same way.

What to Do if you or a Loved Are Arrested for DUI or Possession

If you or someone you know have been arrested for DUI or possession of a controlled substance, you will need a criminal defense attorney. Do not say anything without first talking to a lawyer. In your Miranda Warning the police officer read to you, he said, “You have a right to remain silent… you have a right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one…” Use both of those rights immediately.

The Matthew Lopez Law team is one of the finest in Arizona. Call (602) 980-1987 in Tempe, (928) 714-7032 in Lake Havasu City, or the closest to your location. Either office will be able to put you in contact with an attorney or send an attorney to the police station. Then sit tight and wait, without talking to anyone. That includes the person they put you in a cell with, do not speak to anyone until you speak with an attorney. This may seem a little melodramatic but you really do not know who that person is or why they are there.

If it is one of your friends or family members who was arrested, then you can fill out our convenient online contact form and someone from Matthew Lopez Law will send a reply to you. Then, let your friend know help is on the way and they should sit tight and exercise their “right to remain silent” it is genuinely the best thing they can do to help their defense attorney.

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