Maryland Court Upholds Legality of Vehicle Search During DUI Arrest

police-car-1515955 (1)Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is far too common in Maryland and throughout the entire country. According to statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 1.5 million people are arrested for DUI in a given year. To put it another way, one out of every 121 licensed drivers was arrested for drunk driving last year. These are alarming statistics and not to be taken lightly. But it is important to keep in mind that a driver pulled over for DUI may be entitled to assert a defense to the manner in which the arrest took place. Every case is unique and rests on the facts surrounding the criminal arrest. If you are facing criminal charges, you are strongly encouraged to contact an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Every citizen has a constitutional right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from an illegal search and seizure. In a recent case, the driver alleged that police officers violated this right when, during an arrest for DUI, they searched his vehicle for alcohol containers but instead discovered narcotics. Here, an officer allegedly observed a driver (Efrain Taylor) driving at a high rate of speed, exceeding the limit, and then noticed him drive through a stop sign. The officer pulled over Taylor and allegedly saw that he showed signs of intoxication. He conducted a field sobriety test, determined that the tasks were not done successfully, and placed Taylor under arrest.

Another officer arrived at the scene and conducted a search of the vehicle and found a “controlled dangerous substance.” The arresting officer went to the vehicle and saw a clear plastic baggy containing what he believed was cocaine. Taylor moved to suppress the evidence based on an illegal search. He argued that there was no “independent probable cause” for the search because there were no observable open containers. The officer argued that the purpose of the search was to locate any other alcohol, open containers, or anything related to the DUI arrest.

The court denied Taylor’s motion to suppress the evidence, concluding that the search was lawful because the officer could have found alcohol in the car. At trial, Taylor was convicted of multiple drug and DUI charges. He appealed, arguing, among other things, that the court erred in denying his motion to suppress the narcotics found in his car. Taylor argued that the search violated his right to be free from an illegal search. The court of appeals, however, discussed one of several exceptions to the constitutional protection, namely a “search incident to an arrest.” Here, the court looked at whether the officer had “reason to believe” that evidence of the offense of arrest will be in the vehicle.

In reviewing this case, the court reviewed the “totality of the circumstances” and upheld the suppression court’s finding that it was reasonable for the officer to believe that Taylor had alcohol in his vehicle that would be evidence of his DUI arrest. Significantly, the court pointed out that in Maryland, a DUI offense may be proved by circumstantial evidence, such as the presence of alcohol in the car driven by the arrestee.

The court’s holding is limited to these specific facts. Every case is different and must be assessed accordingly. Anyone who is arrested for DUI is entitled to a strong legal defense and is encouraged to contact a local criminal defense attorney. Anthony Fatemi is an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney who can work to develop the best strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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