One of the most important things to know when interacting with law enforcement is your rights regarding search and seizure. With this in mind, the following is information on what you should know about searches and how they can impact your criminal case. If you believe your rights may have been violated, consult with a Manassas criminal defense attorney today.
Regarding searches of your vehicle, you do not have to, and should not, consent to a law enforcement search of your vehicle. In fact, if the police are seeking consent to search a vehicle, they likely do not have the requisite reasonable suspicion or probable cause needed to furnish them a legal justification for a search. Often times, someone believes that they have nothing to hide in their vehicle and consents to a search, only to find out that there is drug paraphernalia, drugs, or other contraband that has been left in the vehicle by friends or family members without the driver’s knowledge. For this reason, it is critically important to never consent to the search of your vehicle.
Before legally searching a person, vehicle, or home, police must at least some reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The main difference between these types of searches is that it is easier for the police to find reasonable suspicion or probable cause to search the person or vehicle in public places or during a traffic stop. Police commonly conduct what is called a Terry Stop, where they have the right, if they have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that there is some criminal activity, to do a brief stop and a brief investigation to either confirm or dispel their suspicions. This includes a pat down of the individual’s person.
The search of a home, however, is highly unlikely without a search warrant. Courts are very reluctant to allow police into an individual’s home unless there is strong evidence that there is some kind of criminal activity taking place or that has taken place there, or that evidence is being destroyed.
If the police tell an individual that they have reasonable suspicion or probable cause, but they do not, and the individual subsequently consents to the search, that consent will turn what might have been an illegal search into a legal search. Most people are surprised to find out that police are allowed to engage in deception in order to secure consent for searches or in order to get individuals to make statements. In other words, the police may lie about having probable cause or reasonable suspicion to obtain consent. Consent given in this manner is just as effective as if it were given absent the police statement, and makes any search of the home, vehicle, or person legal and valid. This is why it is important to always articulate the lack of consent, no matter what the police say.
You may refuse a search on the grounds of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees you the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. If police tell an individual that they have either reasonable suspicion or a probable cause to conduct a search, whether of the person, his car, or his home, the individual does not have the right to resist them. He does not have to consent to the search, however, and even where the police state that they are permitted to conduct the search, an individual may still assert his lack of consent.
However, if the search is illegal or improper, challenging the legality of the search at the time it is being conducted is not the right time. Illegal searches are challenged appropriately later in court. During the search, after articulating their lack of consent, individuals should simply stand back, comply with the police, and not resist the search, even if they think that it is illegal or unfair.
Officers are not required to tell suspects that they have the right to refuse a search, and thus they nearly never do. It is therefore important that individuals themselves know their rights and always refuse to consent to searches. Relying on what police say is not always the best course of action.
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