Once a person is arrested, the question is, “Can the police officer search the vehicle?” Most arresting officers will arrest somebody for a DUI and then search the car for alcohol containers.
Exigent Circumstances or a Warrant MUST Accompany a Search
The officer must have some probable cause that an illegal item is in the vehicle before searching. There has to be what are known as “exigent circumstances” that require the officer to search the vehicle without a warrant.
In general, there has to be a warrant issued before a vehicle can be searched.
Searching Without a Warrant: If Police Safety Is in Question
Interviewer: What if an officer says to you, “We’re going to search your vehicle.”
Kevin: In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, an officer can’t just search a vehicle for officer safety unless a weapon is in plain view in the vehicle. In that scenario, an officer, can go in and grab a gun, a bat, a knife or whatever other weapon may be evident at the time, without getting a warrant.
However, if an officer wants to just go into a vehicle and search for alcohol or drugs, that can’t be done without a warrant or some type of, as I said, exigent circumstances.
By exigent circumstances, I mean circumstances that lead the officer to objectively believe that the evidence can be destroyed or stolen or that the driver can’t be secured properly first, before getting a warrant, and that the evidence needs to be obtained before it goes missing.