Maryland DUI and Vehicle Searches

In order to for a police officer in Maryland to search your vehicle they must establish probable cause. There are a number of reasons an officer may give for pulling you over, which is the first step in the process. If you are pulled over it is important you consult with a Maryland DUI lawyer as soon as possible. The most commonly cited reasons for vehicle stops, and subsequent searches, include:

  • A faulty or illegal piece of equipment on your vehicle (tint that is too dark, loud exhaust pipes, a burned out taillight, etc.);
  • You failed to obey traffic signals and signs;
  • You were unable to drive steadily, in one lane of traffic;
  • You had expired or missing tags.

Vehicle Searches at DUI Stops

The most common way that we see people’s vehicles searched in DUI stops is incident to arrest, meaning once an officer made an arrest. Once they’ve decided that they don’t just have reasonable suspicion and that they actually have probable cause and they are going to arrest the person for suspicion of DUI, the officer has a right to search the vehicle. A search is not usually effectuated prior to the arrest, but they do happen incident to the arrest, or after the arrest.

Once you are pulled over, the officer has the right to note anything in your vehicle that is visible as probable cause for detaining you or searching your vehicle. This is why it is highly advisable to have all of your personal belongings in the trunk of your car, or at least out of clear view, regardless of whether or not you have any illegal items in your vehicle.

Maryland vehicle search during DUI stopWhen it comes to being pulled over for a potential DUI, the first thing you should understand is that you should never admit to anything. Not only can this be used against you, it can also provide an officer with the probable cause needed to search your vehicle, uncovering additional issues that may further complicate your situation. You should also never voluntarily permit an officer to search your vehicle. The fact is that if you are pulled over for any reason, you need to take action to protect your rights. Never assume the officer will do this for you, whether you are stopped for an alleged DUI violation or other traffic violation.

Search Warrants Aren’t Always Needed in Maryland DUI Stops

Be advised, however, that vehicle searches without a search warrant are permitted in certain situations. These situations include:

  • You have provided consent to the officer that pulled you offer;
  • The officer has established probable cause that there is significant evidence of a crime and a further search of your vehicle is required;
  • The officer believes a the search is required to ensure their own protection;
  • You have been formally arrested and the search is being completed in regard to this arrest.

They can search a vehicle for officer safety or if they have reasonable, articulable suspicion that a crime is taking place. For example, imagine a situation in which someone just finished smoking marijuana in their car and an officer pulls them over. The car is filled with a cloud of puffed smoke, there are leftover remnants of a joint in the ashtray, and the driver’s eyes are red and glassy.

At that point, the officer probably has reasonable, articulable suspicion to search the vehicle for suspicion of marijuana. Officers don’t even need that standard to bring in the drug-sniffing dog; they can have less evidence than that and still hold the person until the drug dog arrives. Once the dog signals or barks, then the officer has probable cause to effectuate a search of the vehicle.

Know Your Rights at DUI Stops

Even when you are stopped for a DUI in Maryland, you do retain many important rights. It is important that you understand what your rights are so that you do not become a victim of an over-zealous officer. It is vitally important that you speak with an attorney if you believe that your vehicle was searched without probable cause. Your lawyer will scrutinize every aspect of the traffic stop and ensuing search and can work aggressively to have any damaging evidence obtained illegally by police suppressed, or banned, from the legal proceedings against you.

You Do Not Have To Consent To A Vehicle Search

If an officer asks to search your vehicle, say no. If an officer asks to search the vehicle, then they haven’t necessarily established probable cause or some other basis to search the vehicle. If an officer asks an individual to search their vehicle, the answer should always be no. People have a right to remain free from unreasonable searches and seizures. When an officer asks their permission, the right answer is no.

Searches Can Lead To More Charges

A DUI charge alone carries significant penalties and consequences such as fines, suspended licenses, and time in jail. You do not need the situation compounded by having an officer discover other illegal or questionable items inside of your vehicle.

It’s also not unusual for police and prosecutors to take fairly innocuous items, such as plastic baggies and your prescription medication, and make it look as though you were guilty of other crimes, such as selling drugs. When you take the steps to protect your rights by securing all of your personal belongings out of view, you can avoid an officer having an excuse to establish probable cause for a search of your entire vehicle. This can save you a good deal of frustration and potential consequences in the long run, helping to minimize the penalties that you may face.