In most states, the police must have probable cause to pull you over; that is, you must be pulled over for a specific reason: speeding, weaving, broken tail light, etc.
You DO NOT have to voluntarily consent to a police officer’s request to search your vehicle.
Many times people are pulled over, especially if traveling on one of the widely recognized “drug corridors” throughout the U.S. After asking for their license and registration—and maybe explaining why they were stopped—the officer will say, “You don’t mind if I search your car, do you?”
Or the officer may say, “You don’t have anything illegal in your car I ought to know about, like guns or drugs?” Most people will answer no.
Then the officer will casually ask, “You don’t mind if I search your car, do you? I mean, you don’t have anything to hide, do you?” If you’ve never seen a police officer try this trick, watch one episode of Cops. They do it all the time!
Your Right to Refuse a ‘Consent to Search’
You are fully within your rights to ask the officer what probable cause he had to pull you over, and then what probable cause he has to ask to search your car. Just ask politely and with respect.
First, after the officer asks you for consent to search your vehicle, you may say, “What probable cause or reasonable suspicion do you have that makes you want to search my car?”
Don’t be surprised if you get a shocked or angry reaction from the officer; they don’t hear this question very often and don’t like anyone challenging their authority. Just stay calm and polite and tell the officer that it is within your rights to refuse a consent to search.
Second, whatever the police officer says or does, YOU DO NOT have the right to forcefully try to prevent a police officer from searching your vehicle, even if he is violating your rights in doing so.
If you legally refuse to allow the officer consent to search your vehicle, the next legal step would be for the officer to seek a written search warrant, but many police officers don’t necessarily follow legalities; you may find yourself the victim of a warrantless search by an overzealous police officer.
If this happens, the general rule is: Anything illegal that is discovered as a result of an illegal search or seizure must be suppressed.
DO NOT physically resist in any way or try to prevent the police officer from searching your car; otherwise, you may find yourself under arrest for Interference with a Police Officer, Resisting Arrest, or Obstruction of Justice.
At any rate, if you ever find yourself in handcuffs on the wrong end of a police officer, always be polite and cooperative, even in that difficult position. An arresting police officer can make the experience bearable or extremely difficult.
If Arrested, Remember Your Miranda Rights
Remember your Miranda rights, the first two of which are probably the most important:
- You Have the Right to Remain Silent
- Anything You Say CAN and WILL be Used Against You
- You Have the Right to an Attorney During and Before Any Questioning
- You Have the Right to Terminate Questioning at Any Time
- If You Cannot Afford an Attorney, one will be provided to you Without Cost
- Keep silent about what happened and request an attorney. Do not give a statement! Statements given without the presence of an attorney can do more harm than good.
If you are arrested, call the Law Office of R. Bruce Tharpe as soon as possible.