No! The answer is always no!
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution unequivocally protects each of us from unlawful search and seizure. Many have fought and died because that right is so important to the fabric of American society. So, why would anyone just give it up?
I know the most common response is: “I have nothing to hide, so what do I care?” And that may, very well, be true…as far as you know.
The reality is that some, not all just some, law enforcement officers actually believe that the ends justify the means when it comes to taking criminals [BTW: we are having this conversation because they think YOU are a criminal] off the street. Some of those self-justified means include embellishing reports, fabricating facts, and even planting evidence. (Save the hate mail, I know that is an unpopular point of view, but it happens to be tragically true.)
Police officers are not interested in searching a vehicle or a home or anything else because they expect NOT to find something; they want to find something that incriminates YOU, no matter what that something is. Maybe that something is just the “odor” of marijuana or alcohol; maybe that something is an old bottle cap or white flakes from that donut you ate this morning but that they are sure is cocaine. In the end it may be nothing, but the end does not come until after you have been arrested, taken to jail, and humiliated. Oh, and NO, you usually have no recourse; cops are allowed to make “reasonable” mistakes. Reasonable is highly subjective.
If an officer wants to search something bad enough, there is absolutely nothing wrong with making them follow the law and secure a search warrant. Yes, that will piss them off, but so what? It’s not your job to make their job [of incriminating you] easier. If they truly have probable cause to search, they can argue that to a judge and secure a warrant. Easy.
They, of course, will threaten you and try to scare you; they will say things like: “we will have to impound your car” or “this will take hours” or “you can sit in jail” while they search. Ok. They don’t expect you to know that they cannot do ANY of those things without probable cause and, the harder they try to get you to consent to a search, the more likely it is that they don’t have it. It’s all just a game.
The hard part is staying strong. Officers are trained and programmed to intimidate, scare, and pressure you into compliance. They have lots of training, but you have the Constitution and the Constitution is more powerful than all of their training combined. Most people don’t know or are unsure of their rights and, in the heat of the situation, fear can cause us to panic into submission; don’t do it.
When you place the Constitution between you and law enforcement, they have only one of two choices: follow it or bend/break it. If they follow it, everything works the way it is supposed to. If they bend/break it, they will [eventually] be held to answer for it by your Lawyers – and if that’s us, it will not be pretty for them.
To make it easy, here is a simple script to follow:
Law Enforcement Officer (LEO): Can we search your car/house/bag?
LEO: Why not? What are you hiding?
You: If you want to search, get a warrant. Otherwise, no, you do not have permission to search.
LEO: If you just let us look, we won’t find anything and we can all be on our way.
You. No. Get a warrant.
LEO: We will get a warrant and it will take hours, so you can sit in jail while we wait.
You: That’s fine.
LEO: We will impound your vehicle and it will cost hundreds or thousands to get it back out and we will end up searching it anyway.
You: That’s fine. Get a warrant.
LEO: (no matter what he says)
You: Get a warrant.
If you have nothing to hide and/or they do not have probable cause, it’s no skin off your nose to make them follow the law. If, on the other hand, there may be something unfavorable to be found, giving consent to search takes away any possible defense you may have against the validity of the warrant or the search itself.
If you have any questions about your rights regarding searches by police, or if you have been the subject of a police search, call us or a free consultation at (760) 610-6109.