Vehicle Searches Based on The Appearance of Intoxication

While we await the return of DWI checkpoints to the Jersey Shore, the Law Office of Frederick P. Sisto is happy to provide tips to help you avoid a wrongful conviction. The legality of vehicle searches related to a DWI investigation is nuanced and complicated. Here is a summary of the law regarding the most common search scenarios.

In the 2009 Appellate Division case of State v. Jones, the odor of alcohol on the driver’s breath, together with his nervousness and admission that he drank one beer, did not create probable cause to believe that he or his passengers unlawfully possessed open containers. Thus, the search of the vehicle for the containers was illegal. The Jones Court held that if the officer had seen “outward signs” of open container possession such as spilled alcohol, the search may have been justified.

On the other hand, in the 2005 Appellate Division case of State v. Irelan, the Court found that the intoxication of the driver provided probable cause to search the vehicle for open bottles of liquor. The search in Irelan led to the seizure of an unlawfully possessed gun from the console.

In some cases, the evidence will be suppressed if the scope of the search was unreasonable. An example would be the search of a small freezer when a warrant is issued to specifically search for a machine gun. Since the machine gun could not reasonably fit in the freezer, the search would be illegal.

With alcohol, however, an airplane bottle can fit inside any glove box or console. Therefore, if you are going to drink and drive, you not only risk a DWI charge, but also criminal charges for any contraband in your vehicle.

Stay tuned for additional tips and remember that a designated driver is the best way to avoid a DWI. Your best DWI defense is to call Fred Sisto.

Have a great week-end!