When vehicle searches are permitted

On Behalf of | Mar 21, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Most drunk driving arrests in Louisiana are made after police officers pull vehicles over for some sort of motor vehicle violation. Suspected drunk drivers are usually taken into custody after failing a breath test, which is a form of warrantless search. Drivers in Louisiana are required by the state’s implied consent law to submit to breath tests, but police officers are only permitted to order them when they have cause to believe a motorist is intoxicated. This has been debated by lawyers, judges and legal experts for decades, and one of the cases they discuss was decided in New York in 2020.

Gun charges

The case involved a man who was taken into custody on gun charges after police officers discovered a firearm and ammunition in his backpack. The officers searched his backpack after stopping him for not having a light on his bicycle. The man was charged in federal court and filed a motion to dismiss the gun and ammunition on the grounds of an illegal search, but his motion was denied. The man then filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Probable cause

The appeals judges were tasked with determining whether or not the police officers had the requisite reasonable suspicion to search the man’s backpack. These are issues that judges in Louisiana often ponder in drunk driving cases. The judges determined that the officers’ suspicions were reasonable because the man acted nervously, could not provide any identification and was riding a bicycle without lights at 3:20 a.m. in a high-crime area.

Demeanor and time of day

This decision reveals that judges take the suspect’s demeanor and the time and place where events unfolded into consideration when they make these rulings. If this man had a acted calmly and been pulled over in the afternoon, the decision may well have gone in his favor.


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