Search Incident to DWI Arrest

It is not uncommon when person is arrested for DWI for additional charges to be added, depending on what happened at the time. Sometimes it can be for resisting arrest or some sort of behavioral misstep, but sometimes it is for possession of drugs, guns, or some other illegal item found during a search. The question in these situations is whether the police acted properly in searching a person or a car after an arrest for DWI.

This was a question that percolated throughout the legal system for decades as the invention of cars created an entire new universe for all of, including the police. The situation would present itself time after time when the police made an arrest of a driver, and then search the car and find evidence of new crimes. Well those searches were challenged as unconstitutional.

Searches and Seizures

Under the provisions of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution it is a general rule that the police are not allowed to make a search of a person or her things without a warrant. But as with all rules, even those announced in the U.S. Constitution come with exceptions. The exceptions to those rules, however, are created by judges, and specifically the Supreme Court. One of the exceptions to the so called “warrant requirement” is the search incident to arrest.

This major exception was first announced in 1969 by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969). Incidentally, that case did not involve an arrest near a car, but the principle it stands for carried on to impact arrests near cars more than anything else. In that case, the police searched a man’s entire house following his arrest, but never obtained a warrant. In that search, the police found several pieces of incriminating evidence. The issue was whether the search was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

The court, in this case, ruled that such a search is unreasonable. Then they announced the bright line rule that the police are allowed to search a person, and the area immediately around them and in their control incident to an arrest. There were several reasons for this departure from the general rule requiring a warrant. The chief among them was the safety of arresting officers. As the reasoning goes, allowing a police officer to search a suspect or their immediate area of control will decrease the chances of a suspect pulling out a weapon after being arrested.

Now when the police pull someone over and arrest them for DWI, they can search the suspect and the area in their immediate control. This legal doctrine leads to the natural consequence of the police finding evidence of other criminal activity not related to the original DWI in the first place. This leads to additional charges, and headaches, for the person being charged.

Understanding and Defending Constitutional Rules

While this is an overview of this and other rules, the fact is that each rule can be quite complicated in practice. This means that with every charge of DWI, and especially with additional charges, there are a number of ways and avenues that open up to defending those charges and having a successful result in your case. That is exactly what we offer at The Wilder DWI Defense Firm. Contact us today for your free case evaluation.

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