Know Your Rights — Do I Have to Consent to a Search?
Picture this scenario. You’re driving down I-24 after a long day of work. All of a sudden out of the corner of your eye, you see the notorious blue lights flashing, signifying one thing — a police officer is pulling you over. You are not 100% sure why you were targeted or pulled over, but nonetheless you do so.
As the officer walks over, you learn that you were pulled over for going over the speed limit. After a bit, the officer states that he needs to search your car. What do you do?
You Do Not Need to Consent to a Search
First, a minor traffic violation such as speeding does not constitute the need for a search. Keep this in mind if you ever get pulled over for a broken tail light, expired registration or other slight traffic infraction.
In order to properly authorize and conduct a search of your car, house, or personal belongings, the officer must have probable cause. Probable cause is defined as sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected with a crime.
Therefore, a police officer must have concrete evidence, and/or reason, to search you and your possessions. This means that a hunch is not enough reason to insist upon a search. They must either be able to either smell or see something suspicious in your vehicle or hear you admit to a crime in order to justify a search.
The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unwarranted searches and seizures. When you consent to a search, regardless of guilt or reason, you waive these rights. You can say “No” to a search request.
What To Do When Refusing a Search
Regardless of if you think you’ve done anything wrong, you do have to pull over if a police officer flashes their lights at you. Pull over to a safe location, turn off your car, and place your hands on your steering wheel to show you aren’t hiding anything and put them at ease. If they do request to search you or your vehicle, remember that you have the right to refuse if they lack probable cause. An officer may also request that you step outside of the vehicle. If this happens, remain calm and restrain from physically objecting as this could easily get you tasered or charged for assault.
When refusing a search conducted by a police officer, keep the following tips in mind:
1) Remain Calm — Calmly and confidently refuse the search request. Often, the police officer will double down upon receiving your response. The officer may threaten to bring in the drug dog, or say, “If you’re innocent then there’s nothing to hide.” Remember, the officer needs your consent if he is asking for it at this point. Providing consent to a search does two things: (1) Removes your constitutional rights to unlawful searches, and (2) Makes the officer’s job easier. A search conducted after the individual has not consented, allows for the search to be challenged in courts. Never let them bully you into doing something you are uncomfortable with as they are just trying to get through a loophole without probable cause. And don’t try to determine whether they do have probable cause or not. If they are asking, they probably don’t and are trying to trick you. 2)Ask the Officer If You Are Free to Go — If you have not consented to the search, you should ask the officer if you are free to leave or if you are arrested. Remember, stay calm during this conversation. If the officer is not detaining you, you can end the conversation and leave at any time. Do so by asking the officer if you are free to go.
3) Ask for a Lawyer — If by chance you are being detained, tell the officer that you are going to remain silent and that you would like to speak with a lawyer. In this situation, do not say anything else! Breaking that silence amounts to a waiver of your right to remain silent.
Throughout your entire encounter with the police officer(s) stay as calm and collected as possible. It can be a scary situation, but if you remain composed throughout your conversation, it will be in your best interest. The key during a police encounter is to remain polite and cooperative. On the contrary, should you become aggressive towards the officer, you will find yourself in a tricky situation.
Should you have questions about searches, your rights, or other situations regarding your case, contact our attorneys right away. The criminal defense attorneys at Wilson, Howser, Oliver, & Turner are here to help. Not consenting to a search may very well help your case!