Never Consent to Searches
Many people believe that consenting to a search will be seen as cooperating with the police and demonstrate that he or she has nothing to hide, leading to an officer not following through with a search. Although a cooperative attitude with law enforcement is commendable, the predisposition that an officer will not search is these situations is rarely true.
It is important to clarify what is meant by “consenting” to a search. A police officer may politely ask if an individual will voluntarily allow him or her to conduct a search, or an officer may just begin searching without asking permission. If a person finds them-self in a situation where a search is administered without a request, it is likely because the officer already has probable cause to do so. Rarely does an officer knowingly violate a person’s constitutional rights by searching without probable cause. This is because even if evidence is found, it will be “suppressed,” or not allowed to be introduced at trial. When an officer is simply asking permission to search, it is likely because they do not have the probable cause. The office might have a “hunch” and is asking in hopes that you will consent, but a mere hunch is not enough.
The most common scenario I see in my practice is as follows: A person is pulled over and after interacting with the driver, the officer asks if he may search the car. The driver is nervous and thinks if consent is given, the officer will assume the driver has nothing to hide and will not conduct the search. So, the driver consents to a search and what does the officer do? They search the car and find illegal items. The driver is shocked and regrets the decision to give the officer permission.
As a result of this permissive search, the case becomes much more difficult to defend. This is because since voluntary consent was given, the officer does not need probable cause and since there is no requirement for probable cause, the defense cannot argue the lack thereof for any evidence to be thrown out.
If you are stopped by the police on foot, in an automobile, or any other manner and a police officer asks to search you or the automobile, always say “I do not consent to any searches.” I hesitate to say the words “never consent to searches” because, again, there is a difference between giving voluntary consent and not cooperating. If an officer has probable cause to search, they will inform you of this and likely why they have such cause. Withholding consent does not mean being uncooperative and doing so can get a person in more trouble. The safest thing to do in any situation involving a search whether the police are asking to search or is informing you that they will be searching is to say, “I do not consent to any searches.”
Always remember, the best chance in having a fair and stress-free criminal process is to cooperate, reveal only information that is necessary, and to politely inform the officer that you do not consent to any searches.
If you're facing criminal charges in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, contact my office today for a free consultation.