Driving a vehicle after consuming alcohol is not only illegal and very dangerous, but puts the driver at risk of arrest and serious legal consequences. This may include a search of the driver’s vehicle following an arrest, as explained in a recent opinion from Maryland’s highest Court called Taylor v. State.
The Court of Appeals opinion indicates that Mr. Taylor was stopped by a police officer for traffic violations. When the officer approached the vehicle he smelled alcohol, and in talking with the driver observed signs of intoxication including slurred speech and bloodshot eyes. The driver exited the vehicle and then failed field sobriety tests, and was placed under arrest for driving while under the influence of alcohol. Another officer then searched Taylor’s vehicle pursuant to the arrest, and found a quantity of cocaine.
Taylor’s attorney moved to suppress the use of the cocaine at trial, arguing that the warrantless search of the vehicle violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. The officer testified that the purpose of the search was to look for open containers or other evidence of alcohol, which in his experience is often found after such arrests. The trial found that this was a proper search incident to the DUI arrest, which is an exception to the warrant requirement. Taylor was convicted of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and given a lengthy prison sentence, and appealed challenging the legality of the search of the car.
The Court of Appeals noted that established law provides that a search of a vehicle following an arrest is justified when it is reasonable to believe that evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle. The Court said that “reason to believe” means that the officer has a reasonably articulable suspicion based on fact to support this belief. The officer’s own experience, as well as that of other evidence, is sufficient to form such a belief and allow the police to search a vehicle after a DUI arrest, with the result that evidence of other crimes found during the search may be used against the defendant. This ruling provides yet another reason not to drink and drive.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.