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th703

Search and Seizure -single car crash

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Police arrive at a private parking lot (business park) where a car is crashed into the woods (driver fell asleep at the wheel). When approaching the car, driver is sleeping (or some sort of unconsious, either way, not responding). Vehicle is searched and driver wakes up, is allowed out of the car through the passenger side. Driver undergoes several tests, following a pen up, down, left, right, and submits to a breathalyzer in which 0.00 is blown. During this time the car is still being searched, and items are found in which the driver is being charged with possessing. Driver is free to leave with a summons to appear in court - no arrest is made. 

 

Given these circumstances, was the search of the vehicle warranted?

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Not possible to reach any conclusions based on the facts provided.  However, that the car had "crashed into the woods" seems to indicate that some sort of crime or traffic infraction occurred.  Just because the driver blew a 0.00 doesn't mean he wasn't under the influence of something other than alcohol at the time of the crash.

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1 minute ago, pg1067 said:

Not possible to reach any conclusions based on the facts provided.  However, that the car had "crashed into the woods" seems to indicate that some sort of crime or traffic infraction occurred.  Just because the driver blew a 0.00 doesn't mean he wasn't under the influence of something other than alcohol at the time of the crash.

Agreed, driver fell asleep at the wheel and I have edited post accordingly. Are drugs/alcohol automatically assumed in these cases? Regardless, a request was never made to search the vehicle and the driver was free to go at the end of it all - no charges were filed related to intoxication. 

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Hi @th703

 

Welcome to the community and thanks for posting! A search of the vehicle was warranted if the officers had probable cause to believe that there was evidence in the crime in a vehicle. Probably officers often assume that drugs and alcohol are involved when a driver falls asleep at the wheel, crashes the car, then remains unconscious until they arrive on scene.

 

The FindLaw.com Team

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44 minutes ago, th703 said:

I have edited post accordingly.

 

I have no way of discerning how you edited the post.

 

 

44 minutes ago, th703 said:

Are drugs/alcohol automatically assumed in these cases?

 

Assumed by whom?  It wouldn't be prudent to generalize about all cops in Virginia.

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Lets get back to the point of this post - was search and seizure legally performed once the driver was outside of the vehicle undergoing medical tests? There was nothing in plain sight, any items seized were in the middle console and or glovebox, and consent was not given to search the vehicle. 

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The suspicion that the driver was under the influence of some substance would more than likely be based on the driver's behavior after he or she was removed from the vehicle.  Regarding the assumption that a traffic infraction occurred based on the accident happening can be countered by Powers v. Commonwealth, 211 Va 386 (1970).  The vehicle search was probably justified by the need to take custody of the vehicle in order to have it towed.

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45 minutes ago, RetiredinVA said:

The suspicion that the driver was under the influence of some substance would more than likely be based on the driver's behavior after he or she was removed from the vehicle.  Regarding the assumption that a traffic infraction occurred based on the accident happening can be countered by Powers v. Commonwealth, 211 Va 386 (1970).  The vehicle search was probably justified by the need to take custody of the vehicle in order to have it towed.

 

Hey thank you for your response. The driver was completely level headed, somewhat dumfounded (aren't we all when we first wake up?), but completely cooperative with the officers and medical team. The vehicle was not towed (it was on private property so the police could not have it towed). I believe the suspicion of being under the influence was before interaction with the driver. Once the driver was awake and speaking with the officers, it was if it were a normal conversation. 

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The search stems from the fact that the driver was found unconscious in his car.

 

I don't believe that the search has to stop, once started for probable cause, just because he out of the car speaking coherently with the police.

 

By the way, if you don't want to get arrested for carrying contraband in your, then don't be stupid enough to carry contraband in your car.

 

You never can predict the set of circumstances that can result in a search.

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2 hours ago, th703 said:

was search and seizure legally performed once the driver was outside of the vehicle undergoing medical tests?

 

As per my first response above:  it is "[n]ot possible to reach any conclusions based on the facts provided."  It might be more accurate to say that it is not possible to intelligently reach any firm conclusions based on the facts provided, but the facts you did provide don't in any way suggest it wasn't legal.

 

 

2 hours ago, th703 said:

The driver was completely level headed, somewhat dumfounded. . . .  I believe the suspicion of being under the influence was before interaction with the driver.

 

His lucidity and cooperation don't negate the fact that he crashed his car and was found in an unconscious state.

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