Why you should refuse a police search

The Fourth Amendment protects U.S. citizens against unlawful search and seizure. If the police ask for permission to search your property, you can decline.

Here are three reasons why you should refuse the search even if you don’t think you have anything to hide.

  1. It is a waste of your time. Searches can take a few minutes, or they can take hours. If they are searching your bag, it may not take very long but car and residential searches can take much longer.
  2. They may mistreat your property. Although police officers may not intentionally damage your property, something could get broken. You will have few legal options if police damage your property after you gave consent to be searched.
  3. You don’t know what they might find. If you have had guests in your home or passengers in your car, you cannot be certain that the police won’t find anything illegal. Save yourself the risk and simply refuse the search.

Note that if the police do have a warrant to search your property, you must let them. Refusing a search when there is a warrant or probable cause is against the law.

Instances in which you cannot refuse the search

  • When the police have a warrant.A warrant gives police the right to search your property based on the suspicion of a crime.
  • When they can see evidence without search.For example, if you get pulled over by an officer and have an illegal drug sitting on your passenger seat, in plain sight, the officer now has the right to search your vehicle.
  • When there is probable cause. Similar to the previous example, if the officer pulls you over and your car smells like marijuana smoke, they may have cause to search your car. Additionally, admission of guilt of illegal possession gives the officer the right to search your property.
  • Upon arrest.If an officer arrests you, (with probable cause) they can search your vehicle or other property for further illegal possession.

The police have cause to search your property without your consent in the above situations.

Although you must obey the police search in those situations, you may be able to dispute the search later. It is important to speak with your attorney if you are charged with a crime or believe that an officer illegally searched your property.