If I am stopped by the police, can they search my car?
The short answer is no. A routine traffic stop does not give the police the right to search you or your car. They must have probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime in the car or on you or that you may be armed and dangerous. If they believe you to be armed, the police may pat you down to make sure you aren’t but they may not pull things out of your pockets that are clearly not weapons just to see if it is contraband, like drugs. Without probable cause they must get you to consent to the search for it to be legal.
If they ask for my consent, can I say no? And won’t that make me look guilty?
You have the right under the Constitution to politely decline any requests to search you or your property. It may make them wonder if you’re hiding something, but they wouldn’t ask to search if they didn’t already think you were up to something. If they find another reason to search and find something, you can challenge that search in court, but if you consent, you waive that right and something may be found that you didn’t even know was there.
Does the same right to refuse to let the police in or to conduct a search apply to my home too?
Even more so. Because a car is mobile, the police have a little more leeway in searches of cars. Homes are given the highest degree of protection and may not be searched without a search warrant, unless there are “exigent circumstances” like a medical emergency. If you consent to the search, you waive the right to challenge it.
The police came to my neighbor’s house and told them they knew he was growing marijuana. He let them in, but did he have to?
No. This is called a “knock and talk.” If the police had good evidence that a crime was going on in the house they would have gotten a warrant. They do these knock and talks when they don’t have enough evidence to get a warrant and they try to “persuade” the person to let them in. They can be very persuasive, but unless they cross the line to intimidation, and he can prove it, by consenting to the search, your neighbor has waived any right to challenge it in criminal court.
Randall Grantham is an attorney with offices located in Pasco County, Florida. The above FAQ are intended to be for general informational purposes only and are NOT to be construed as legal advice. If you have any specific questions on these or any other criminal law issues, you should consult an attorney of your choice.