November 2010: The Magic Words--Part 1 of 3: "I do not consent to a search."

During any law enforcement encounter, it’s important to remember that officers are trained to gather information in a variety of ways. One method is to search you—your pockets, your bag, your car, your home. Under the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….”

It is routine during an encounter for an officer to ask (or tell) you to empty your pockets, take a look around inside your bag, your car, or your home. You have the right to refuse a search. Searches are generally only allowed if they have a warrant, you are under arrest, or they have your permission.

If a cop says “empty your pockets” you can answer “no.” If they look in your pockets anyway, say the magic words:

I do NOT consent to a search.

If during a traffic stop, an officer asks to look around your car, you can answer “no.” Even if they start digging around your car, say the magic words:

I do NOT consent to a search.

If law enforcement shows up at your home, you can step outside, shut and lock the door behind you, ask to see a warrant, and refuse them entry into your home. If they go into your home with OR without a warrant, say the magic words:

I do NOT consent to a search.

Even if they have a warrant, say the magic words…if a judge later decides that the warrant should not have been issued, but you gave permission, then anything found during the search can be used against you. Also, just because they have a warrant doesn’t mean you have to help them search—nothing says “I did NOT consent to a search” like a door that’s been kicked in or a safe that’s been drilled open.

Even if there is nothing incriminating on your person, in your bag, in your car, or in your home, it is your right “to be…secure…against unreasonable searches….” Flex your rights! For more information on how to deal with law enforcement, check out10 Rules for Dealing with Police

…and remember to keep ASA in the loop—after ANY law enforcement encounter, call our legal hotline at 510/251-1856 x304 or email [email protected].

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