When police are investigating a potential crime, they have a lot of tools at their disposal. One of the most powerful, however, is your consent. If you consent to a search, then it doesn't matter how unlawful that search is, or how much it violates your rights. Because you allowed it to happen, police can do it.
In most situations, this is pretty straightforward. If you're driving a car and police ask to look in your trunk, you can say no. But what if you're at someone else's house, and they consent to a search? Can you refuse?
A case just handed down by the Supreme Court of Maine deals with just this topic.
Maine v. Carton
Back in late November, 2013, a police officer received a tip that people at a hunting camp were making methamphetamine. The officer didn't have a warrant, so he asked the owner of the hunting camp if he could search the camp, and the owner gave him his consent.
The officer entered the camp to find Kevin and Micah Carton there. They saw the officer and asked, “What's up?” The officer said that he was there to “look around.” Neither of the Cartons objected to the officer searching the camp, and he found evidence of drug manufacturing.
Both of the Cartons plead guilty, and appealed that the search was unlawful because they didn't consent to it.
Your Physical Presence at the Search Matters
This is far from the first time that something like this has happened, so there are plenty of cases that have said that whether you are present at the scene makes a huge difference in your rights, and how you can invoke them.
If you're not present at the scene of the search – for example, if the Cartons were not at the hunting camp when the officer “looked around” – then all that the officer needs is the consent of the owner.
If you are at the scene, though, this is still the case: An officer only needs the permission of the owner of the premises. However, if you're lawfully there and you actively object to the search, then the officer cannot conduct the search.
You Have to Affirmatively Object to a Search
The key point here is that you need to actively and affirmatively object to a search if you're on someone else's property, and that someone else gave police their consent to search the area. For the Cartons, they failed in this regard because they merely asked the officer, “What's up?” and didn't say anything after he said he was there to “look around.”
William T. Bly, Criminal Defense Attorney
Knowing what your rights are can be the difference between going on with your life, or facing serious criminal charges. Unfortunately, you need to know what you can do before the time comes. If you don't, then having an experienced Maine criminal defense attorney, like William T. Bly, on your side is your best bet. Contact our law firm online, or at (207) 571-8146.