This post is brought to you by Steve the DUI lawn mower guy: Steves Riding Lawn Mower DUI Arrest Video
As you heard, Steve “knows his rights.” But do you know yours?
Did you know that you can refuse consent for a police officer to search your vehicle during a common traffic stop? Did you know that even if you have nothing to hide, it’s normally wise to do so?
Did you know that while casually walking down the street minding your own business, if approached by a police officer and asked “May I ask you a few questions?” you can (politely) refuse and go on your merry way?
The topic of police can really get people worked up. There’s the “don’t trust the police” crowd, and on the other end of the spectrum there’s the “Well if you have nothing to hide, what are you afraid of” crowd.
I suppose I’m somewhere in the middle. Typical libertarian.
Listen, I know I have nothing to hide. But that doesn’t matter. I have a right to not be unreasonably searched guaranteed by the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. Here is the entirety of the text of the 4th Amendment:
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.
Additionally, I have a right not to incriminate myself, as guaranteed by the 5th Amendment:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
This video (while lengthy) is an excellent primer on why, even if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t talk to the police: Dont Talk to Police
So, the next time I’m stopped by police, if asked to consent to a vehicle search (and mind you, in the 3 times in my life I’ve been pulled over I’ve never been asked this question) I will politely decline. If asked why, I will cite the 4th Amendment.
Scott Morgan of flexyourrights.org gave 5 reasons why you should never agree to a police search:
1. It’s your constitutional right.
The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures. Unless police have strong evidence (probable cause) to believe you’re involved in criminal activity, they need your permission to perform a search of you or your property.
You have the right to refuse random police searches anywhere and anytime, so long as you aren’t crossing a border checkpoint or entering a secure facility like an airport. Don’t be shy about standing up for your own privacy rights, especially when police are looking for evidence that could put you behind bars.
2. Refusing a search protects you if you end up in court.
It’s always possible that police might search you anyway when you refuse to give consent, but that’s no reason to say “yes” to the search. Basically, if there’s any chance of evidence being found, agreeing to a search is like committing legal suicide, because it kills your case before you even get to court.
If you refuse a search, however, the officer will have to prove in court that there was probable cause to do a warrantless search. This will give your lawyer a good chance to win your case, but this only works if you said “no” to the search.
3. Saying “no” can prevent a search altogether.
Data on police searches are interesting, but they don’t show how many searches didn’t happen because a citizen said no. A non-search is a non-event that goes unrecorded, giving rise to a widespread misconception that police will always search with or without permission.
I know refusing searches works because I’ve been collecting stories from real police encounters. The reality is that police routinely ask for permission to search when they have absolutely no evidence of an actual crime. If you remain calm and say no, there’s a good chance they’ll back down, because it’s a waste of time to do searches that won’t hold up in court anyway.
4. Searches can waste your time and damage your property.
Do you have time to sit around while police rifle through your belongings? Police often spend 30 minutes or more on vehicle searches and even longer searching homes. You certainly can’t count on officers to be careful with valuables or to put everything back where they found it. If you waive your 4th Amendment rights by agreeing to be searched, you will have few legal options if any property is damaged or missing after the search.
5. You never know what they’ll find.
Are you 100 percent certain there’s nothing illegal in your home or vehicle? You can never be too sure. A joint roach could stick to your shoe on the street and wind up on the floorboard. A careless acquaintance could have dropped a baggie behind the seat. Try telling a cop it isn’t yours, and they’ll just laugh and tell you to put your hands behind your back. If you agreed to the search, you can’t challenge the evidence. But if you’re innocent and you refused the search, your lawyer has a winnable case.
I’m not advocating going out and doing nefarious things. I’m merely advocating that you should flex your rights!