Can I Search Your Car?
I’m on a suppression win streak. My last two suppression motions in marijuana cases have been granted. Like any other criminal defense attorney I have had more than a few motions to suppress denied. As a NORML legal committee member these marijuana victories are especially satisfying.
Aggregating these cases produces some general advice on being stopped and searched.
First, cops will often try and trick you into granting permission to search your car. You should NEVER consent to a police search of your vehicle.
Why? The cop might be crooked, your friends might be drug users, and the officer has already decided you are a criminal.
Look out for this typical line the cops use to get your consent to search.
Cop- “You don’t have any guns, meth, hand grenades, or dead bodies in your car do you?”
Cop- “Then you don’t mind if I search your vehicle.”
You- “Actually I do mind. Am I free to go now?”
See the trick. The cop is implying that only a person with something to hide would deny permission to search. He wants you to say “No, I don’t mind” before you have a chance to think about it. In this case the correct answer is “Yes, I do mind.”
Cops rarely ask for permission to search in a straight forward manner. They often backdoor their search request. Why? They want to get your consent, without informing you of your right to refuse.
Why do the police want to search your car? Not because they like you, or “just to check your vehicle” so they can let you go. The police only ask for consent to search because they think you are a criminal and they don’t have probable cause to search.
Asserting your rights will often make the police angry. Here is a typical response.
You- “I do not want you to search my car.”
Cop- “Well, if you have nothing to hide why can’t I search?”
You- “Am I free to leave?”
Cop- “If you don’t let me search I am going to bring out the drug dog!”
You- “Am I free to leave?”
At that point the cop is left with a decision on whether to actually call out the K9 unit, or let you go. Don’t feel bad for him. He is the one who caused this problem. You can still refuse to search, even if the officer is angry, or threatens you.
Start asking cops if you are free to leave. Cops hate this, but it is important. During a traffic stop the police should only be investigating traffic violations. They will inquire about the violation, check your DL/insurance, and check for warrants. If the police start asking about drugs, it is because they think you have them.
Finally, never try and stop an officer from searching. That’s always a bad idea. Even if you think he is acting illegally the side of the road isn’t the place to correct bad officer behavior.