It is important for Iowa motorists to know what a law enforcement officer can and cannot do after pulling a driver over on a suspicion of operating while intoxicated. One of the questions that often comes up is whether a police officer is able to search a vehicle when a driver is pulled over on suspicion of operating while intoxicated.
Probable cause and vehicle search
The standard applied when an immediate search of a motor vehicle occurs is that of probable cause. If a police officer reasonably believes that a driver is in the midst of breaking the law, a search of a the passenger compartment of a vehicle at the scene typically is permissible and lawful. An example of breaking the law is a situation in which a driver is pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. An unlawful search can be a used as part of a criminal defense if a driver is charged with a crime.
Obtaining a warrant for a search
In the alternative, a police officer lawfully can compound a motor vehicle and bar the driver from access to it. When this step is taken, law enforcement can seek a search warrant from a judge to conduct an examination of the compounded vehicle. A police officer must demonstrate the existence of probable cause that a crime was committed and that evidence of that crime is contained in the vehicle.
Consent to search
A driver has the ability to consent to a search of a vehicle if he or she desires. However, a driver cannot be coerced, pressured or forced into consenting to a search. Consent truly must be voluntary.
If a motorist has concerns about a violation of his or her rights, a consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney is an important step. Legal counsel can explain rights associated with the search of a motor vehicle.