Many times arrests for drug and gun offenses, among other crimes, happen after the police have stopped a car and asked to search the car, and the driver has allowed the police to do so. For most people, when a police officer pulls them over and asks to search the car, a person can feel like they have no choice to let the police officer do what he wants. But is it legal for a police officer to do so? And, if so, can prosecutors use whatever is found in the car in convicting the person? Police can search a car when the driver gives consent, but a critical question is whether the consent was actually voluntary. If it was not, you may be able to have any contraband seized in the search thrown out of your case.
You Do Not Have to Give Consent to Police to Search Your Car
Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, all persons are protected against searches and seizures in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This includes your person (e.g. what is in your pockets) and your home as well as your vehicle.
Generally, police need a search warrant to search your car, but several exceptions apply. For example, if the police have probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime in your car, they may search it, but that is a relatively high bar. Thus, police officers will often try go get a driver’s consent to search the car, as consent is another exception to the warrant requirement.
The important thing to understand is that you do not have to give an officer consent to search your car. An officer may try to pressure you into doing so by saying things like “this will make it easier on you” or “if you have nothing to hide, then it shouldn’t be a problem,” but you should never feel intimidated into giving up your Fourth Amendment rights. Furthermore, allowing a police officer to find contraband will almost certainly not make things easier on you.
When You Have Already Given Consent to a Police Auto Search
Unfortunately, many people are not aware of their rights to tell a police officer he cannot search the car until it is too late, or they simply felt too nervous and pressured in the moment to assert their rights. But there are potentially other options available to you in your defense even after a search has taken place.
Contraband evidence seized in an auto search conducted by consent is only admissible when the consent is voluntary. What is and is not a voluntary search is a complicated legal question that a criminal defense lawyer can litigate on your behalf.
At the most extreme, a police officer who threatens you with force to get you to consent to search has not obtained voluntary consent. But, usually, police officers will exert some form of intimidation to get a driver to relent to a search. A court looking at the question of whether such consent was truly voluntarily or not will look at a variety of factors, including:
- The age of the driver
- The intelligence and education of the driver
- Whether the officer was displaying a weapon
- Whether the driver thought contraband existed in the car
- The driver’s past experience with law enforcement
- Whether the driver was in custody or not
If you have been arrested and/or had evidence seized from your car during a police stop, make sure you do everything you can to protect your rights in all criminal proceedings by working with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can speak to police and prosecutors on your behalf and defend your rights.
Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney Patrick Quillian worked as an Oklahoma district attorney, and will work with you in mounting your best defense in your criminal matter. Contact the office of J. Patrick Quillian, Attorney at Law, today at 405.294.4448 to schedule a free consultation to see what his criminal defense team can do for you.