Many times, DUI-related traffic stops are the bridge to a larger criminal investigation.
Even if nothing comes of that investigation, our Birmingham DUI lawyers know that police are trained to look at the bigger picture, consider that there are more possibilities than meets the eye.
For this reason, officers who are investigating a DUI will almost always try to search the suspect’s vehicle.
In general, it’s best to politely decline a search of your vehicle if you are asked to provide consent. Some people mistakenly assume they have no choice or that their consent doesn’t matter because police are going to do it anyway.
The reality is, your consent matters a lot.
Declining a vehicle search is a smart move even if you have nothing to hide.
To give you an idea of why, consider the following:
1. Saying no is your constitutional right under the 4th Amendment, which is the provision that protects against unreasonable search and seizure. In order to legally initiate a search of your vehicle without your consent, officers have to have probable cause to believe that you are engaged in some criminal activity. Otherwise, if you say no, they can’t conduct a search.
2. Saying no protects you if you do end up in court. It’s true that the investigating officers may still search your vehicle even if you refuse consent. However, if they do find evidence of wrongdoing, your defense lawyer will have a better shot of having that evidence suppressed if you never agreed to the search in the first place. If you know you have something to hide, consenting to a search is akin to legal suicide. Your case is killed before you ever make it to court.
3. If you decline, you might be able to prevent a search. Unfortunately, there isn’t any data that shows how many searches were prevented because a person declined. Officers simply don’t keep records of those cases. In turn, people have gotten this notion in their heads that police are going to search no matter what you say. However, the truth of the matter is that police often ask for permission and often must back down when they are denied.
4. Searches can be a colossal waste of your time and puts your property at risk for damage. Police can spend an hour or more sifting through your belongings. They are under no real obligation to use care when they do so or put everything back in place where they found it. If you decline to be searched in the first place, you may be able to file a civil case later if your property is severely damaged or lost. However, waive your right and you may waive your right to a future claim.
5. You can’t always be sure what they’ll find. It sounds far-fetched, but it’s always possible that they may find something illegal. It’s possible an acquaintance dropped a bag of something illegal in your vehicle without your knowledge. You can protest all day that it isn’t yours, but if it’s in your car, the officers are likely to hold you responsible. If you consented to the search in the first place, you will have a very tough time refuting that evidence. All the more reason to Just Say No.
Halloween Driving Safety Tips, October 2013, Progressive.com
More Blog Entries:
Refusing a Breathalyzer in Birmingham DUI Investigation, Oct. 15, 2013, Birmingham DUI Defense Lawyer Blog