One of the most important rights that you have as an American is your right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This right is guaranteed to you, under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It prevents police officers from taking you aside whenever they want, and looking for evidence of a crime. The Fourth Amendment is also one of the pieces of the Constitution that is most argued over, in court. After all, what constitutes an “unreasonable search or seizure” can mean different things to different people at different times of day.
Because incredibly intelligent lawyers and judges have been arguing about the Fourth Amendment for over two centuries, now, entire law school courses are devoted to what it says, and what it means. It's impossible to recap all of it in a single blog post.
However, there is one aspect of the Fourth Amendment that everyone should know and be familiar with, should they ever find themselves being pulled over to the side of the road by a police officer.
Under the Fourth Amendment, a “search” is an act by a government official – such as a police officer – that violates your reasonable expectation of privacy. This means that a “search” can include any of the following scenarios: obtaining a blood test without a warrant; patting you down for weapons or drugs; searching your car or luggage; searching your home.
Whether a “search” is reasonable or not – and therefore whether it violates the Fourth Amendment or not – depends on a lot of things, and the law quickly gets very complex. However, there's one aspect of the Fourth Amendment that is not complex, at all.
Consenting to a search automatically makes it a reasonable search.
This is based on the idea that, while the Fourth Amendment gives you the right to be free from unreasonable searches, you can waive that right.
While it might seem absurd for someone to waive their Fourth Amendment right, the reality is that it happens all the time. Police officers know that, once they get your consent to perform a search, it doesn't matter whether it's a reasonable one, or an unreasonable one. It's a great way for them to search for evidence of a crime, without worrying about whether they're violating your rights. So they pressure you into giving them your consent, by making the situation awkward, and trying to intimidate you into letting them get their way.
Whenever a police officer asks you, “Can I search your car?” or “Mind if I take a look in that bag, there?” remember that it's a question, and that they're trying to get your consent to make a search. If they need your consent to make a search, then they probably aren't sure if they could conduct the search, otherwise. Giving them your consent will only be helping them, as they look for evidence that you've committed a crime.
If you're facing criminal charges, and think that you might have consented to a search that led to your arrest, you need a good criminal defense attorney. Call attorney William T. Bly at (207) 571-8146, or contact him online.