Should You Consent to a Police Search?

police search

A police search occurs anytime law enforcement agents search your body or clothing, home, car, or other possessions. When police perform a search, they are usually looking for illegal drugs, illegal weapons, or evidence of other illegal activity. In most cases, you have the right to refuse a search, especially when the police do not have a search warrant.

If you are asked to consent to a search, you should calmly and clearly tell the police officer that you do not consent to the search, explain that you are asserting your right to remain silent, and ask to speak to an attorney. Never waive any rights including your Miranda rights.

Refusing a Police Search Cannot Be Used as Evidence of Guilt

Many people mistakenly believe that refusing to consent to a search means that they are guilty. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Fourth Amendment explicitly provides protection against unnecessary searches by police and other law enforcement agents. By consenting to a search, you are actually giving up some of your Constitutional rights.

Even if you do not think you have anything to hide, it is often still wise not to consent to a search. Suppose, for example, that you were recently driving with someone who had marijuana or a joint in his pocket. The marijuana fell out and was under the passenger seat of your car.

If you consent to the search of your vehicle and the police find the joint, you could be charged with drug possession regardless if you knew it was there or not.

The Fourth Amendment Protects Against Illegal Search and Seizure

Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, you have the legal right to refuse to consent to a police search.

The Fourth Amendment states:

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, or the things to be seized.

The Fourth Amendment protects people against illegal searches and seizures and requires that government officials have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed before conducting a search of your home, vehicle, person, or property. To determine whether a search was valid, courts will consider whether the person whose property was searched had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place that was searched.

If a judge decides that you did have a reasonable expectation of privacy and the police searched your property without a warrant or without your consent, evidence of any illegal activity will be excluded from consideration at trial and cannot be used to convict you.

Using the example of the loose joint in your vehicle, if the judge orders that the marijuana cannot be considered, the police have no evidence with which to convict you of drug possession and the case would most likely be thrown out.

Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement

Most searches can be refused, but if the police come with a search warrant, they have a right to search what is outlined in the warrant. Police may try to get away with an illegal search if you do not assert your right to refuse. A police search is illegal if:

  • You have not been arrested
  • You have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the property that was searched
  • The police search is performed without a warrant

However, there are exceptions to the requirement that police officers have a warrant to search your property. Law enforcement agents can conduct a search of your property if you consent to the search. This is why it is important that you do not consent to a police search, and clearly tell the police that you do not consent to a search of your property.

If the police have placed you under arrest before performing a search of your property, they are permitted to perform a search of your property. This is known as a search incident to arrest. If the police have probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed, or if there are exigent circumstances, such as if they believe evidence of illegal activity is being destroyed, they can perform a search without a warrant.

What Should You Do If Police Want to Search Your Home, Vehicle, or Property?

If police stop you while you are driving, come to your home without a warrant, or ask to search your person, do your best to stay calm, and be polite, yet firm. Keep your hands in plain sight at all times. If you need to reach in your pocket, go back into the house, or reach somewhere in your vehicle, tell the police what you are going to do, and move slowly.

Otherwise, say as little as possible and tell the police that you do not consent to a police search. Explain that you are invoking your right to remain silent, and that you wish to speak with a lawyer.

Then contact the Stowe Law Firm, PLLC as quickly as possible.

The Stowe Law Firm, PLLC: Serious Defense for Serious Crimes

The Stowe Law Firm, PLLC proudly defends people who have been accused of crimes in Rowan County, Mecklenburg County, Davidson County, Cabarrus County, and Stanly County. If you were arrested and believe the police violated your rights, it is likely that you have been charged with a crime. Salisbury, North Carolina criminal defense attorney Ryan Stowe can help.

Ryan will evaluate the charges against you, conduct an independent investigation, and advise you on your legal rights. He will also be your advocate in court proceedings, and will work hard to have the charges against you reduced or the case dismissed, and will zealously represent you at trial, if necessary.

Learn more about our criminal defense team and the cases we handle. Then contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case and how we can help.