When you are stopped by the police for committing an alleged traffic violation, the officer is usually on high alert when he or she approaches your vehicle. The officer will likely ask you for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance and may inquire as to why you think you were pulled over. While the officer is talking and listening to your responses, he or she is also likely to be looking into your vehicle for indications of illegal drugs or other criminal activity. Depending on what can be seen—or smelled, in some cases, the officer may ask you to consent to a search of your vehicle. If this happens ever happens to you, it is important to exercise your rights and respectfully deny the officer’s request.
An officer who is trying to get permission to search your vehicle is likely to act friendly, casual, and even helpful. He or she may say things like “I know you have nothing to hide,” or “We can just clear this up real quick.” Police officers rely on a variety of techniques to obtain consent to a search, because consent makes an officer’s job much easier in the long run.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In most cases, this means that the government—and the police, by extension—must obtain a warrant to search private property. Cars, trucks, and other vehicles present unique considerations, however, because of their mobility. Case law, including decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, has established that the police may search a motor vehicle if there is probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed or that evidence of a crime will be found.
Consent Overrides Probable Cause
By affirming your right to refuse a search, you give the officer two basic choices. He or she can forget about the search and move along, or the officer can conduct the search and be ready to justify his or her probable cause if the search turns up anything illegal.
If you consent to a search, the need for probable cause is eliminated, which means you will not be able to challenge the legality of the search if you are charged. Probable cause, however, can be challenged, especially if it leads to an on-the-scene decision about a search. (A search warrant based on probable cause can be challenged as well, but a warrant can only be issued by a judge, so there is extra layer of oversight.) If the search is deemed to be illegal, anything found during the search is likely to be deemed inadmissible during your prosecution.
Contact Us for Help
In short, if the police ask for permission to search your car, you should respectfully refuse to give it. The officer may search your vehicle anyway, but you will have the opportunity to challenge the basis for the search later in court. If the search results in you being arrested, you should immediately contact an experienced Will County criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are fully protected. Call 815-740-4025 for a free, confidential consultation at the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba.