We are frequently asked how to respond when a police officer asks for consent to search your vehicle. Our emphatic response is “Just Say No!” By consenting to the search of your vehicle, you forfeit your right to challenge the search of your vehicle, and anything found within it can be used against you if you are charged with a crime. In order to search your vehicle the police officer must have probable cause to search it, or exigent circumstances must exist to do so. Police cannot search your car just because you have been arrested. If an officer thinks he or she has the right to search your vehicle, there is no reason to request your consent. Asking to search your vehicle is an implicit admission that the officer does not have cause to do so.
Should you find yourself facing such a request, be polite, and be respectful. But do not allow yourself to be intimidated. Often, you will be pressured to consent. You may be told a canine team will be called to the scene. What you won’t be told is that a canine search may also be a search requiring probable cause. Alternatively, the officer will try to force consent by asking, “If you don’t have anything to hide, why won’t you let me look inside the vehicle?” The obvious answer is that the fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives you the right to be free from an unreasonable search or seizure.
Of course, we are not recommending you debate the Constitution with a police officer, nor should you become confrontational. What you should do is refuse to consent to a vehicle search. In this way, should the officer search your vehicle despite your refusal, you will preserve your right to challenge the search and anything discovered as a result of it in a court of law. Therefore, it is never in your best interest to consent to a vehicle search.