The circumstances under which a car may be searched after an arrest have been discussed in many reported appellate cases. The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless searches of individuals’ “persons, houses, papers and effects” has been held applicable to a motor vehicle they occupied. How this works when a person has been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) was explored by Maryland’s intermediate appellate court in the case of Efrain Taylor v. State.
The opinion says that one evening a policeman saw a vehicle he felt was speeding and then saw it run a stop sign, so he pulled the driver over. The officer smelled alcohol on the driver, and testified his speech was slurred and eyes bloodshot. The driver admitted he had come from a bar, and after exiting the car according to the officer failed field sobriety tests. The officer placed him under arrest, and a fellow officer searched the car and found baggies of a white powder that turned out to be cocaine.
At his trial on DUI and drug charges, the defendant challenged the search of the car and the admissibility in evidence of the substances found during the search. The officer testified that the reason for the search was to look for containers of alcohol, as in his experience in several DUI cases open containers of alcohol were left in the vehicle. The Court allowed in the evidence, the defendant was convicted of drug charges and appealed. The appeals court noted that Maryland courts had not previously dealt with search of a vehicle incident to a DUI arrest.
The Court noted that courts have upheld a warrantless search incident to an arrest of a vehicle only when the suspect was unrestrained and close enough to reach into the vehicle, or when it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest may be in the vehicle. Courts in other states had ruled differently on searches of vehicles, after a DUI arrest, with some states even requiring that a container be in plain view to justify the search. The test to be applied in Maryland as to whether the police the search is reasonable is to consider 1) the officer’s training and experience, 2) the lack of a reasonable explanation for the defendant’s apparent intoxication, and 3) unless there are facts to the contrary, it is not unreasonable to believe the person became intoxicated in the vehicle.
In this case, the Court accepted the officer’s description of his experience in DUI arrests finding alcohol in the car, which could be circumstantial evidence of the driver’s intoxication. It rejected the argument that this opens the door to searches of all vehicles after an arrest, requiring facts such as these in a DUI arrest to justify the search.