Colorado DUI: Can the Police Search My Car?
In Colorado, the Fourth Amendment protects everyone from unreasonable searches and seizures. The important thing about this is that all searches and seizures are considered unreasonable unless the officer has a warrant or the search falls within an exemption to the constitutional warrant requirement.
So, what are the exemptions?
There are just six, and they are as follows:
- Search incident to a lawful arrest
- Consent to the search
- Vehicle and container searches
- Inventory searches
- Exigent circumstances searches
- Plain view searches
In a nut shell, unless you have been pulled over by a police officer who has obtained a valid warrant from a judge to search your car, or their search falls within one of the exemptions listed above, police are not able to search your car.
The simplest exemption, and the easiest way for a police officer to search your car without a warrant, is the “consent to search” exemption. Here, the title is self-explanatory: If you consent to an officer searching your car, then they are lawfully allowed to do so.
Remember that if you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI and an officer asks you if they can search your car, you have the right to say no.
Another exemption that can be enacted quickly and easily is the “plain view” exemption which allows officers to seize items which they observe and immediately recognize as being evidence or contraband while they are lawfully present in an area that is protected by the Fourth Amendment.
For example, if you are pulled over on suspicion of a DUI and the officer notices empty beer cans littered across your back seat, then they are lawfully able to seize those items and use them as evidence against you.
One other exemption that is often used by officers is the “search incident to a lawful arrest” exemption. This exemption is used when an officer believes that you have tried to destroy evidence; that you are going to try and escape arrest; or that searching you is in the interest of their safety.
In this case, an officer is allowed to lawfully search you and any area within your immediate control. If you are the driver, the area within your immediate control may include the area under your seat, in the glove box, ash tray, and side door compartments.
Knowing your rights when being pulled over on suspicion of DUI is always important and may have a significant impact on your case if you are charged. If you have already been charged, it is important that you gain the help of an experienced attorney who will fight to get you the best possible outcome.