You’re pulled over by the police on a routine traffic violation. It all seems so simple, and you know you were speeding. You hand over your license and registration, and the officer asks you nicely, “Do you mind if I take a look inside your vehicle?”
That innocent sounding request is anything but. You may feel like you have nothing to hide, and maybe a little guilty for speeding. But there is no reason to ever allow a search of your car under any circumstances. There is no benefit to providing consent and no penalty for refusing it.
What’s the problem?
The main reason that people allow a search in a situation like this is that they feel they have nothing to hide. But you never know just what might have been left in your car by one of your passengers.
Certainly, if they left evidence of drugs it would be used against you, the car owner. But it may be even more innocent than that. A medication container that isn’t yours could be taken as evidence of prescription drug fraud.
You can never be sure everything that might be found in your car, or how it might look. For that reason alone, there is only potential downside to allowing a casual search.
Isn’t refusal admission there is something up?
Refusing a search cannot be used against you. It’s every American’s right to not consent to a serach under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. It can’t even be brought up in trial unless it is first shown to be somehow relevant to the case.
So there is absolutely no downside to simply saying “no” to any request for a search.
What should I do, then?
First of all, stay calm. Answer all questions directly with a “yes, sir (ma’am)” or a “no, sir (ma’am)” as much as you possibly can. Do not volunteer any information and say as little as possible. Always be polite, but firm. Never touch the officer or make any sudden movements.
This may sound paranoid, but it is the best way to stay out of trouble. Many people believe that they can “talk their way out of trouble” but in reality you are more likely to talk your way into it. There is never any benefit to volunteering information of any kind. There is also no reason to be anything other than polite and forthcoming, too.
What if they found something?
If you have already had an encounter with law enforcement and they found a “surprise” in your vehicle, you need an attorney. It is always best to have someone present to advise you of your rights if you have been taken into custody or charged.
But you can often avoid getting into that situation simply by refusing consent to any search under any circumstances.