I was headed to watch a softball tournament recently. It was a Saturday morning around 11 o'clock. I was going through a small town when I saw a DPS trooper with his lights on in a parking lot. There was a young lady standing around, and the trooper had her luggage out on the trunk of the car; he had plastic gloves on, and going through it. I have no idea what led to that. I'm guessing it was something similar to what happens hundreds - if not thousands of times - every day. An officer pulls somebody over, and even if they don't have a reason to believe they've committed some type of offense, ask for consent to search. It's usually very friendly and innocuous. The encounter usually goes something like this:
- Do you have anything illegal, or any weapons that I need to be worried about?
- That’s followed up with “you don't mind if I look in your car do you”, or maybe “do you mind if I look in your car?”
That request takes most people by surprise. The large majority of people will say yes. After all, we're all taught to respect authority, and that the police are there to protect us. Those are not bad things, but that doesn't mean you should give up your rights and let them rummage through your car. If for no other reason, do you really want to hang around for five or 10 minutes (or more) while they look around? I don't know about you, but I'm generally always in a hurry to get somewhere. The last thing I want to do is hang around on the side of the road watching the police rummage through my car.
You have the right to say no and refuse consent
The hard part is saying no; most people feel pressure to say yes, so I have a couple of things for you to consider. I don't suggest you verbalize them, because it will probably make things worse. But if you think about these things, it makes it much easier to say no.
The first thing to consider is this: what do you think the officer's response would be if you told him you don't mind him searching through your car if he doesn’t mind you running down to the police station and searching through his. Do you really think he would want you to do that?
The other thing to consider is why they are asking. You’ve already told them you don’t have anything illegal, so they obviously don't believe you. If you're the confrontational type, you might ask why they think they need to look in your car. The usual response would be “do you have something to hide.?” Of course, that’s a stupid question, since you already told them you don’t; unless of course they have a reason to not believe you. So why should you have to prove that to them?
You give up your rights when you give consent
If they really have a reason to search, they're going to do it anyway. It's probably no surprise that police officers don't have the training and background in the nuances of search and seizure law that lawyers and judges do, so their assessment of the situation is not always correct. In other words, they might mistakenly believe they have the legal right to search. However, if you consent to search, it makes no difference whether they're right or not. If you deny consent and they do it anyway, you've given a lawyer like me something to work with and argue to the court.
There's something else I've never understood, which is why people consent when they have something illegal. I've had cases where people with several pounds of cocaine consented to a search. If you know you're guilty of something, that's definitely when you should say no. If you think you have it hidden, I guarantee you, they're going to find whatever you have. This is probably not the first time the officer has searched a car, and he knows what to look for and where to look. Unless you’re an experienced drug smuggler, who has rigged up some undetectable place to hide your stuff, they're going to find it. (Of course, professional drug smugglers don't always get by). You need to always remember, that the police have more experience than you do. If you don't think they go to training and learn what to look for, you are sadly mistaken.
The hardest thing for anyone to do is say no. Think about all of those times in everyday life when you've agreed to something, and later wonder why you did it. It's worse when it's someone in authority, because we are almost preconditioned to accept that authority and go along with whatever they want. Unless you want to spend thousands of dollars hiring somebody like me, just suck it up and do it. And remember, if you consent, and they go through your car and tear something up, you're just out of luck; do you really think the police department is going to write you a check for any damage?
Five reasons to say no to a car search
To summarize what I just said, here’s the 5 reasons you should just say no:
- It’s your constitutional right. (in case you want to know, it’s the Fourth Amendment that protects you from unreasonable search and seizure)
- You preserve your rights if the police find something and you end up court
- You’re going to avoid a search if there’s no reason to support it
- Saying yes is going to result in delay, and possibly damage to your car or property
- Finally, you never know what they might find. Especially if you are someone who regularly has other people in their vehicle.
So exercise your rights, and just say no. You can also request my free document holder with exactly what to say on it for your glove box.
What to say if Asked for Consent to Search
If you are stopped, and asked for consent to search your car or your property, here’s what to say:
"I don’t want you searching through my car and my property. I have the right to say no, and I’m exercising that right."
If they continuing questioning you, ask "Am I free to go? I would really like to get on my way."
And if they still keep asking you questions, say “I would like to talk to a lawyer”
If you want to know more about traffic stops, check out our article on Your rights during a traffic stop.
If you want more information on the criminal justice system, get a FREE copy of our Layman's Guide to Criminal Justice System.
And you've read this too late, and already been arrested or charged with an offense in Waco, McLennan County, or Bell County, Falls County, Hill County or Bosque County, give us a call at 254-296-0020.