Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Case Law Update - DUI and Vehicle Searches

On March 12, 2010, the Idaho Court of Appeals issued a decision in Idaho v. Cantrell regarding DUI arrests and vehicle searches incident to the arrest. Cantrell was arrested for DUI and, after being handcuffed and placed in the patrol car, the officer searched Cantrell's vehicle finding marijuana. Cantrell was then charged with trafficking marijuana due to the large quantity found in the trunk. Cantrell attempted to suppress this evidence as an illegal search and seizure but was unsuccessful. On appeal, the Court of Appeals decided that the search of the vehicle was proper because a DUI is an offense for which it was reasonable to believe evidence of the offense might be found in the passenger compartment.

The specific analysis of the court is set forth below:

"In this case, Cantrell was arrested for DUI, and the DUI supplied the basis for the search. See Gant, ___ U.S. at ___, 129 S.Ct. at 1719. It was reasonable to believe that evidence of the offense, e.g. alcohol containers or other evidence of alcohol use, "might be found in the vehicle."[5] Gant, ___ U.S. at ___, 129 S.Ct. at 1719 (quoting Thornton, 541 U.S. at 632 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment)). Cantrell's admission with respect to consuming alcohol does not negate the fact that evidence of DUI "might be found in the vehicle," particularly in light of the fact that officers are not required to accept as true a defendant's version of the events. Moreover, Cantrell's contention that a search of his vehicle is unreasonable because evidence of his DUI would only be contained in his body ignores the realities of a DUI investigation. Indeed, as the State points out, "a DUI trial does not start and end with a breathalyzer report," considering the fact that the report may be suppressed in some instances. Officer White testified that after he placed Cantrell under arrest he intended to continue his DUI investigation, including looking in the vehicle for any open containers or other signs of alcohol use.[6] In addition to finding the Tupperware containing marijuana, Officer White also found a beer can. Officer White's search of the vehicle fit within the second prong of the search incident to arrest exception under Gant."
Practical Application of the Cantrell decision shows that if you are pulled over for a DUI, police officers will be able to search your vehicle without your consent as long as they are searching for evidence of the DUI. If they happen to find other contraband incident to their search, you will likely be cited for these offenses as well. Simply admitting to consuming alcohol will not negate the officer's ability to search your vehicle.