You’re stopped by police. Can you refuse their request to search your vehicle?
Being stopped by the police is never a comfortable situation. You’re probably wondering what you did wrong, whether the police officer is going to be a jerk, and whether you’re going to drive away or get in some sort of trouble. Sometimes cops ask you all kinds of questions, and you’re not quite sure how to answer. Commonly police request to search your vehicle. Can you turn them down? Do you have to say yes? Should you say no?
If police find something illegal in your vehicle, you’ll likely be arrested and face some sort of criminal prosecution. Consenting to that search can be a problem, as consent eliminates a lot of potential pre-trial motions your criminal defense attorney could otherwise argue. Once you agree to the search, it’s awfully difficult to backtrack once the police find some sort of evidence of a crime. Holding the line on the front end and not agreeing to a search is important.
If you’re facing criminal charges, hiring a top criminal defense attorney to help you fight those charges is one of the first steps many defendants take. While most attorneys will probably take your money, not all of them can actually help you. At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., our criminal defense attorneys are routinely recognized as some of Wisconsin’s best. Whether the police find drugs in your vehicle, arrest you for an OWI after a consensual search, or arrest you for any other crime, we can help. Contact us today to begin speaking with our staff and to schedule a free initial consultation.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution allows you to refuse police searches of your vehicle.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides individuals many protections against various forms of intrusive police conduct. The language of the Fourth Amendment is:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The Fourth Amendment protects against illegal searches and seizures. This applies to your vehicle, with a few important exceptions. In Wisconsin, law enforcement officers can search your vehicle if they have probable cause to believe that they will find evidence of a crime within that vehicle. A situation involving a simple traffic stop is not enough to conduct a search consistent with this principle. But if the police officer detects the scent of marijuana when you open your window, the situation changes. This gives him probable cause to search your vehicle without first requesting consent. Visually observing evidence of other crimes gets the officer to the same point, allowing him to search your vehicle. He has probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime is within your car.
Sometimes police like to get tricky. Let’s pretend the officer smells marijuana. In your mind, you know he’s right in detecting the scent. But then he requests consent to search. This isn’t necessary, but the result in court is that the search is no longer about probable cause. Instead it’s about you allowing him to search. Whereas there may have been a challenge to probable cause prior to your consent, that’s no longer an issue in your case. In this situation, it’s always a good idea to deny consent. They’ll still search the vehicle, but it’s not based on your permission.
Should I ever give police consent to search my vehicle?
Giving police consent to search your vehicle is never a good idea. If you’re not committing a crime, the cops don’t need to see the interior of your vehicle. You have nothing to prove to them. If you are committing a crime, they’re going to find evidence of it once they search. In one situation, you’re wasting your time. In the other, you’re exposing yourself to criminal liability. No good result comes from either scenario.
But the cops tell you that they’ll take it easy on you. They tell you that you’d let them search if you had nothing to hide. These are all simply attempts by law enforcement to get you to abandon your constitutional rights. While the cops are certainly trying to look like nice people when doing this, it’s important to remember that’s not their angle. They’re not trying to be nice – they’re trying to get into your car. They want to find evidence of a crime and they want to charge you with that crime.
What if police search my car anyway?
Although you may have previously told police that you do not consent to the search of your vehicle, repeating that statement is a good idea. Many police agencies throughout the state use body or squad car cameras that pick up both audio and video. This piece of evidence could be powerful if police officers lie and say you consented to the search.
Do not try to block officers. This gives them a basis to charge you with a crime called resisting an officer. Do not fight with them or argue with them, as neither of those actions do anything to help your case. Do not swear at them, as this could be the basis for a disorderly conduct charge.
You did not consent. You attempted to make a record of it. This is the most you can do in this situation.
You can refuse a police search of your vehicle. But if you’re facing charges, a criminal defense lawyer can help navigate your case.
Unfortunately, if you made your way to this article and you’re still reading, it’s safe to say that police searched your vehicle and found some evidence of a crime. If they hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here. But now is the time to move from simply reading online to instead considering which criminal defense attorney you’re going to hire for your case. At Van Severen Law Office, all of our criminal defense attorneys are familiar with the issues discussed in this article and are all prepared to help.
We offer free consultations to potential clients seeking representation from our firm. Contact us at (414) 270-0202 to get started.