A good point bears repeating. Don’t consent to searches by police! You may think you have nothing to hide, but when you consent to a police search, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. And if you do have something to hide, it’s never worth the risk thinking the police might not find it. If they do, that evidence will be admitted into your case as the prime foundation of the State’s case against you. And because you consented to a search, there’s no way for a defense attorney to keep it out.*
Searches of Your Vehicle Incident to a Routine Traffic Stop
It’s impossible to avoid being pulled over by police at some point, for something. The most common charge is speeding, but police watch like hawks for rolling a stop sign, going through an intersection a second too late on a red light, driving with a headlight or taillight out, expired registration or inspection stickers, or even just being out late at night. Police write tickets for such infractions to raise municipal revenue, but they love coming upon a bigger ticket item, like a technical violation of a gun law, drug law, or something more serious that a search might uncover. If police see contraband in plain sight, they can proceed with charges right away. But if they do not, they might ask you to consent to a search, in hopes of finding something.
Why would anyone consent to such a request? Because they don’t know they have the option to say “no.” Police use intimidation to get people to comply with their instructions, blurring the line between orders and requests for permission. When an officer of the law, with a badge and a gun on his belt, asks you for something, most people feel no other option than to simply say “yes.”
For the informed, however, knowledge can be their ally. Police ask for consent because they need it to legally proceed with a search. If they didn’t need your permission, they wouldn’t even ask for it—they’d simply start searching and tell you to get out of the way! So, if police ask to search your vehicle and you’re not sure what to say, simply be respectful and say “I don’t consent to any searches.” This is such a great answer because it clearly communicates that you do not consent to a search, but also defers to the authority of the policeman or policewoman.
Searches of Your Home
Though less common than vehicle searches, police searches of residences or even offices is becoming more common. A recent report by the ACLU shows that police are using increasingly militarized tactics to carry out searches of people’s homes, sometimes with a rubber stamped warrant from a judge not based on sufficiently specific information, or no warrant at all. To Americans, the home is the “final retreat,” and forcible police entry is a terrifying prospect. How do these situations arise, and what steps can you take to protect yourself?
If police have a warrant, they are legally allowed to enter your home and search according to the terms set by that warrant. This is an exception to the Constitution’s prohibition on “unreasonable” searches and seizures. In this case, it’s best to cooperate with the police and respectfully follow their instructions. However, do not say anything incriminating, and do not show police where any contraband is! Although it is illegal to destroy evidence if police are looking for it, you can often help yourself the most by shutting up and not allowing yourself to be your own worst enemy.
If police do not have a warrant, they probably cannot legally enter your home or conduct a search without permission. If they ask to come in, respectfully say “I do not consent to any searches.” Like the situation with a vehicle, this clearly communicates that you do not consent to any search, which might uncover something that could hurt you in a criminal case.
Have You Been Charged?
Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. If you have been the target of a police search, or charged with a crime due to any other circumstance, contact the Law Office of Walker Fults today at (214) 797-1861 to see how we can help resolve your legal issue. Unlike the police and prosecutors, at the Law Office of Walker Fults, we put your best interests above everything else, and won’t stop until we get the best outcome in your case.
*Walker Fults once won a case at trial in which a client consented to a police search. Walker Fults argued the evidence had been obtained by an improper line of questioning that “implicated detention,” a legal situation which triggered Constitutional 4th Amendment protections. The judge excluded the evidence and found Walker Fults’s client Not Guilty.