A DUI stop can be a harrowing experience but knowing what the police can and can’t do is tremendously helpful for your DUI case. Can the police conduct a search of your vehicle if you are stopped for a DUI? Here’s what you need to know.


When can the police search your car?

There are certain instances where the police can legally search your vehicle:

  • When you are arrested (they can only search the area that is within your immediate control)
    • Your clothing
    • The console in your car
    • The glovebox
    • Under your seat
    • The passenger compartment
  • They have a warrant
  • Your vehicle was impounded (locked compartments such as a locked glovebox are not covered here and cannot be searched without a warrant)
  • They have a reasonable belief that they are in danger
    • You are being combative or threatening
    • They can see weapons when they look through your car windows
    • They see you reaching for something in your vehicle or on your person
  • They have probable cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle
    • An open container of alcohol in your cup holder (in plain view)
    • When they approach your car, they can smell alcohol coming from inside it, or from you
    • There is an item in plain view in the car that looks like an item that has been reported stolen by someone else


Do you have the same expectation of privacy when in your car as opposed to in your home?

Nevada courts typically interpret the law as there is a lower expectation for privacy in your car than there is in your home. This is largely due to the mobility and the more public nature of a vehicle. Further, any items that are left in plain view can provide probable cause for a search of the vehicle. This means an open bottle of liquor on the passenger seat or a bomb sitting on the back seat are easily visible from outside the car. And police can legally shine a flashlight into the car and look through the windows. The justification for this is to maintain the safety of the officer.


police request to search car after dui stop in nevada

Does a DUI arrest give police probable cause to search your vehicle?

A DUI arrest does not necessarily give police probable cause to search your vehicle. If they looked through the window and saw empty liquor bottles on the back seat, that would give them probable cause.

A DUI arrest does give police the right to search the areas of your car that are in your immediate control, such as the console, glovebox, and passenger area.

Your car can also be searched without a warrant or your consent if it is impounded. The only parts that cannot be searched are those compartments that are locked, such as the glove box. In those cases, they would have to get a warrant.


Can you refuse to allow police to search your car if they ask?

You can verbally refuse to allow police to search your car if they ask, but you should do it politely and in a non-combative way. Simply saying something like, “I’m sorry but I do not give my consent for a search of my vehicle.”

If the officer tries to intimidate you, just repeat it again.

If the police believe that you are armed, they can frisk you for weapons on your person when they detain you. But unless they have probable cause to search your vehicle, they cannot do so without your consent. And that refusal is not evidence or an admission of your guilt.

If the police search your vehicle and they do not have probable cause or your consent, any evidence they gather against you during that search is not admissible in court.


How long can police detain you in Nevada?

Police are not allowed to detain you indefinitely. Under N.R.S. 171.123 a person cannot be detained for longer than is reasonably necessary to fulfill the purposes of the law and you should never be detained for more than 60 minutes unless you are arrested. Law enforcement officers are also required to detain you only in the immediate vicinity of the place where you were stopped. If they want to take you somewhere else to question you they must arrest you. They cannot force you to go anywhere for “questioning” in order for them to determine if a crime has been committed.

Once you are arrested, you are in police custody. They are required by law to read you your rights and that you can exercise your right to remain silent.

If you are detained by the police, you need to determine if you are in police custody or if you are free to leave at any time. This can be used later to determine if the officers’ conduct was appropriate and followed the letter of the law.




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