30th Jul 2013
Many people who have been stopped for a minor traffic violation have found themselves the subject of a vehicle search. Do you have to consent to a vehicle search upon the officer’s request? NO!
During a traffic stop, an officer may ask for consent to search the vehicle from the driver. If an officer asks the driver for consent to search the vehicle, know that you DO NOT have to agree. In fact, it is wise to simply say, “No, I do not give my consent to search the vehicle.” Often, those who are driving the vehicle of another will give consent not knowing that there may be contraband in the vehicle. Then, once something incriminating is found (drugs, for instance) the driver is charged, taken to jail, and left trying to explain that he or she had no idea there were illegal substances in the vehicle.
In other instances, a driver may consent because he or she is scared that they will automatically go to jail if they do not agree. An officer may not threaten criminal action simply because you refuse to give consent to search your car. Under the law a consent that is given because of police coercion is not legal consent and the evidence seized pursuant to a search that was conducted pursuant to a coerced consent will be suppressed (meaning that the State can’t use it against you at trial).
The United States Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case of Arizona v. Gant that officers can conduct a warrantless search incident to arrest as long as it is reasonable to believe that evidence of the criminal infraction will be found in the vehicle. A search of a vehicle for routing traffic offenses such as speeding are not going to be valid under the Gant rule because there is not going to be any evidence of the criminal infraction (speeding) found in a search of a car.
Without consent or a valid search incident to arrest, the police will have to get a warrant to search your vehicle. To do this, an officer must go to a judge and explain why they believe that a search of the vehicle is warranted. The officer has to show that facts discovered through logical inquiry that would lead a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe that an accused person has committed a crime in order to establish probable cause. They cannot simply act upon a “gut feeling” or a “hunch.”
In short, there is no reason to ever consent to a vehicle search. You are provided protections from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and you should exercise them!