An arrest on a DWI charge can lead to serious penalties and long-term consequences if you are convicted. What people sometimes do not realize, is that an arrest for driving while intoxicated could authorize police officers to search the interior of your vehicle for evidence.
Under the Fourth Amendment to the federal Constitution, you are protected from unreasonable searches by members of law enforcement agencies. As a general rule, absent a search warrant signed by a judge or probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime will be discovered, police cannot arbitrarily subject you or your vehicle to a search. There are, however, some exceptions to this general rule that might come into play during an arrest for impaired driving or DWI.
An officer who believes that you his or her safety might be at risk has the right to pat you down for weapons and, if you are in a motor vehicle, the officer may also search the passenger compartment for weapons. Although neither the pat down of your outer clothing nor the search of your vehicle is a search for evidence, any weapons found in your clothing or evidence found during the search of your vehicle may result in additional criminal charges being filed against you.
Even if a police officer does not believe it is necessary to search your vehicle for weapons during a DWI arrest, your vehicle might still be subjected to a search by the police. Police might elect to impound your vehicle following a drunk driving arrest rather than leave it unattended at the side of the road. Once it arrives at the impound facility, it is subjected to an inventory search.
Inventory searches are not considered to be searches prohibited under the Fourth Amendment. The purpose of the search is to make a list, or inventory, of the contents of a motor vehicle for the protection of the vehicle’s owner. Evidence of a crime found during an inventory search may be used as evidence to support additional criminal charges beyond the DWI charge that got the vehicle impounded in the first place.
The law regarding searches and seizures is complex. An arrest for driving while intoxicated may lead to additional and more serious criminal charges, so obtaining legal advice from an attorney familiar with the criminal law in Missouri may be helpful.