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Do I have to consent to a search?

If you have an encounter with the police, they may want to conduct a search. They could ask to search your car after a traffic stop, for example, or to search your home after knocking on the front door. Do you have to consent to this search or not?

Your rights

You do not have to consent to a search. People sometimes assume that they do simply because they know that the police are authority figures, but that’s not actually how it works. Arbitrary searches are illegal and you can also tell the police that you’d rather they did not conduct that search.

In fact, if the police ask for your consent at all, it could be because they really have no reason to search — at least, not one that would hold up in court. Therefore, they know they can’t get a warrant. Getting your consent is the only way to conduct that search. You should always be wary if they ask, and you must remember that you do not have to allow it.

Can they search without consent?

If you do not consent, the police may still be able to carry out the search. In some cases, they can do it based on reasonable suspicion, such as smelling drugs in your car. In other cases, they can do it based on items they see in plain sight. They may also be able to search if they think it’s an emergency or that evidence is going to be destroyed if they don’t do so immediately.

Generally, though, police need a warrant to search without your consent in areas that are outside of public view such as your home and the trunk of your car. They may even say something like “don’t make us go get a warrant” while trying to convince you to allow it. Don’t be fooled. You absolutely have a right to make them go get that warrant. If they do, then they can search your house.

What now?

Do you think that a police search violated your rights? Make sure you know what defense options you have.