You Can Say No
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” – Fourth Amendment to The United States’ Constitution
Imagine for a moment that you are driving along the road when suddenly you see bright lights and the chirp of a police siren. You pull over and the officer comes up to your window. “License and proof of insurance.” You hand it over, and the Officer returns to her car. A few minutes later she returns to your window, hands you your things, and asks “Do you mind if I search your vehicle?” What do you say? Do you allow the officer to search your vehicle, or no?
Many defendants consent to searches of their person and vehicle for a variety of reasons. In a situation like this, where you are faced with an officer, you might think I don’t have anything to hide, and if I refuse he might give me a ticket and then agree to allow the officer to search their car. Some people even believe it can help keep them out of trouble. It doesn't.
Refusing to consent to a search isn’t a crime. Normally, the police need your permission to search your car, except in a few cases, including when the officer has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, during an arrest, if the officer reasonably believes there may be danger, and when the officer has a warrant. During one of these circumstances, the officer usually won’t even ask for your consent.
Even if you believe you have nothing to hide, there’s always the risk that someone who rode in the car (for a carpool with, or the kid’s friends, etc.) has left or dropped something. If so, then consenting to a search could mean dealing with expensive legal fees, hiring an attorney, and potentially facing fines or jail time. Even if there truly is nothing, there are still very few, if any, good reasons to give a police officer permission to search your vehicle and doing will just make things harder on you. While you can’t stop an officer from searching your vehicle if they have probable cause, you can absolutely refuse to consent to a search. If an officer searches your vehicle without your consent and with no exception present, your attorney may be able to keep anything found during the search out of court.
If you enjoyed this article, check out some of our other articles discussing Criminal Justice issues, including this Miranda Rights series discussing your rights during an arrest or interrogation.