Why You Should Never Consent to a Search of Your Vehicle
Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the police. For most people, the first time they may need to truly understand their Fourth Amendment rights is when they are pulled over by police for a traffic stop. That is when police may ask if they can search your car. That is also when you should politely say no.
Unfortunately, most people don’t understand their rights and the limits the Constitution places on police when it comes to vehicle searches. If you don’t understand and exercise your constitutional right to deny your consent to a search, you could be making a terrible mistake that can seriously damage your defense in the event you are charged with a crime based on anything found during the search.
Limits on Vehicle Searches
Generally, a police officer may only search your car in one of the following circumstances:
- The officer has a valid search warrant.
- The officer has probable cause to believe there are illegal goods or substances in the vehicle, such as smelling marijuana or seeing a weapon or drugs in plain sight.
- You are being arrested and the police are impounding the car.
- You consent to the search.
If none of these circumstances are present and the police search your car anyway, it is likely that any evidence of criminal activity obtained during the search will be thrown out by a judge if criminal charges are brought against you. Sadly, too many people give their consent to a search and in the process give away their ability to get such evidence suppressed and their case dismissed.
Consenting to a Search = Consenting to Admissibility of Evidence
Many New Yorkers automatically consent to a search of their car at a traffic stop either because they don’t think they can say no or because they feel pressured or intimidated by the requesting officer. They also may think that refusing consent may make them look guilty or get them in further trouble. Don’t fall into this trap. You should always be able to exercise your Fourth Amendment rights by respectfully refusing to give consent to a vehicle search.
Whether a vehicle search was lawful and constitutional is often a key issue in a criminal prosecution, particularly in drug possession cases. But if you consent to a search, anything found in your vehicle (and your consent allows police to search your entire car) can and will be used against you. Your lawyer, no matter how skilled, will have a hard time getting evidence suppressed if you gave the police a thumbs-up to look around.
By not consenting to a vehicle search, you are giving yourself a much better chance of overcoming any charges arising from the search.
At Epstein & Conroy, we offer free, confidential initial consultations to those accused of New York criminal offenses. We can evaluate the charges, advise you of your options, and speak with prosecutors on your behalf. While we will seek to minimize the consequences of a trial conviction or negotiated plea, our first priority in every case we handle is obtaining a dismissal of the charges.
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