Infringing on Your Rights: Consent to Search

Television shows like Cops frequently show individuals being pulled over, being questioned, and having their vehicles searched. Did you know that you have the right to refuse permission for such a search? Your vehicle is your personal property, or at least that of another party, and warrant-less searches by law enforcement personnel are not allowed. To learn more about how to assert your rights when you get stopped by the police, read on. 

Giving Permission

Often, police officers ask to search almost any vehicle they come in contact with, whether they suspect it contains an illegal item or substance or not. Law enforcement personnel rely on the intimidation factor and outright ignorance of the vehicle's owner to gain access to personal spaces all the time. You should know that the officer must ask you outright for permission to conduct a search and you absolutely have the right to refuse that request.

Grounds to Search

You should understand, however, that the police officer only needs grounds to be suspicious and they may then proceed to search your car whether you give permission or not. The grounds to search are known as probable cause, and include situations where the officer can see in plain view (from outside the car) a suspicious item like a weapon, drugs or drug paraphernalia, or if they can smell the odor of marijuana. In this instance, the search is referred to as "incident to arrest," which means that the search is connected to an arrest of you or someone in your vehicle. If the officer can show probable cause, you may not be able to stop the search, but you can still refuse to give permission and it will at least be on the record (or, in this case, the dash cam).

How to Handle Police Stops

You can avoid a great deal of trouble by knowing what to do ahead of time and knowing your rights as well. Take the following steps:

1. If you are stopped and an officer asks permission to search your vehicle, politely refuse. It's worth noting that, once the officer has written you a citation, if one is being issued, they have no right to further detain you. You should, of course, not leave without the officer's go-ahead.

2. If you are arrested for any reason, you can still refuse the search of your car.

3. You are only required to give the officer your name, and in most cases it's better to say as little as possible.

4. If you have been arrested, ask to call a criminal defense attorney to further advise you, whether you have been read your Miranda rights or not. In some cases, you may be taken in for "questioning" but told you are not under arrest. Click here for more info about how a criminal defense attorney can help in your case.