Can officers search your car at a sobriety checkpoint?

On Behalf of | Sep 14, 2021 | Drunk Driving

If you enjoy alcohol, you undoubtedly understand the importance of arranging a sober ride home after a night on the town. Still, life has an uncanny way of interfering with anyone’s good intentions. Even if you avoid the suspicion of a patrol officer, you may drive into a sobriety checkpoint.

At sobriety checkpoints, officers stop a random sample of drivers to determine whether their blood alcohol concentrations are above Pennsylvania’s 0.08% legal limit. While you can take steps to protect yourself at one of these checkpoints, you should also know when officers can legally search your vehicle.

Probable cause

Officers typically need probable cause to search a vehicle. While an officer may look through your windows or walk around your car, he or she may not open doors or go through your vehicle without sufficient probable cause.

Probable cause is a legal term that basically means officers must have specific evidence of criminal activity. A hunch that something is amiss typically does not constitute probable cause.

Your consent

There are a couple of exceptions to the probable cause requirement. The most significant one is your consent. If you agree to allow an officer to search your vehicle, he or she does not need probable cause or a warrant to do so.

An arrest

If officers arrest you on suspicion of driving under the influence, they may search your vehicle to ensure their safety. They may also usually conduct a search when impounding a vehicle. Ultimately, if you drive into a sobriety roadblock, knowing your rights and refusing a search of your vehicle may be effective ways to avoid incriminating yourself.