You have been stopped by the police for a minor reason, say a traffic stop. You are not being arrested. They ask you this series of questions: “Are you carrying a gun, drugs or large sums of money?” You say no. They say “Can we look in your car then?” What do you do if you don’t want them to search?
The simple answer is: Just say no.
Don’t be vague. For instance, the phrase “Dude, whoa, wassup wit that?” is not a refusal. It is a lesson in surfer-speak, and police don’t consider it to be an unequivocal statement. You must say no in plain terms. “Officer, my answer is no, I do not agree to that, and I am sure you are just doing your job” is actually a nice way to say it.
Can you say no, and get the police to leave you alone? Yes. Police can only search your car if they are arresting you, or if you give them permission. (Keep in mind that if you are arrested, they can search the car, but not the trunk.) In our hypothetical discussion, since you are not being arrested, and you do not want to give permission, then you, as a citizen of the United States, can refuse the government’s request to intrude and search in your vehicle. Refusing a search is not an admission of guilt. It is simply refusing a search. Refusal to search is not evidence of anything, except that someone who knows how to refuse a search asserted his/her rights.
If the police ask you and your passengers to get out of the vehicle, then do so. You do not need to debate, grouse or bitch about the request. Keep in mind that many times people get in more trouble by giving lip or grief to the police because they say something stupid out of anger that gives the police evidence that they never would have had. Be respectful. Reference your statements with “officer” or “sir” or “ma’am.” Never physically interfere with their work (I have always questioned the wisdom of using a cell phone camera during the search.)
The law of vehicle search and seizure is very complicated, although you can simplify it by just saying no. If you are stopped and searched, and you are charged with a drug or weapon offense, then call a lawyer who has spent hours in law libraries and many hours in courtrooms fighting search and seizure cases.
Shaun Kaufman Law specializes in criminal defense, personal injury and business litigation.
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