This two-letter word is something you need to use a lot when dealing with law enforcement.
No says a lot. From a legal standing, saying no prevents a lot of potential cases from ever occurring in the first place.
In every case, say no. There is not an exception to this rule. It will save you a lot of time and headaches later.
Let’s start with a common piece of property when it comes to the consent to search: your car.
First and foremost, always stay cool whenever you get pulled over by an officer. Hands on the steering wheel is always a safe bet. Furthermore, AVOID fidgeting around at all costs. Don’t look suspicious. Don’t make it look like you are trying to hide something.
We had a case where a client was stuffing something they didn't want the police to find into their waist pocket when an officer pulled them over. Because the officer saw this action, it gave him just enough reason to pull him firearm out and command the client out of the vehicle at gunpoint to conduct a search. Lo and behold, to no one’s surprise, the officer found what the client was hiding.
This routine traffic stop escalated into something more just like that.
An officer cannot search your car without your consent under normal circumstances, especially without a warrant.
For instance, we had a client who got pulled over under some suspicous circumstances and taken out of his vehicle, not realizing that a relative who had borrowed his truck had left a gun under the bench seat. On a hunch, the officer asked if he could search the vehicle. The person agreed to the search. Had they simply said "no," the officer would never have found the gun. Now the person, who had only been pulled over for a traffic violation, was left defending a much more serious charge of unlawful firearms possession.
Whether it's your vehicle, your home, or even a storage unit, consent to search requires either a warrant or your consent. Without a warrant, you have the right to say no to an officer who asks you to search the area.
Stay firm and say no if you do not want them to search. If you do, in fact, allow the officer(s) to search, keep in mind you can limit the “scope” of the search. You can, for example, agree to allow an officer to search only the living room of your home and nowhere else.
In addition, you can end any search for which you gave consent at any point for whatever reason. Maybe a search is taking too long. Maybe you have someplace to go. Whatever the reason, at any point you can rescind your consent to search.
It's very possible that if you do say no to a search, the officer may become more insistent or even threatening. Do not let this deter you. It is your right to refuse a search as long as a warrant has not been issued. Remain calm, do not get angry, and politely but firmly tell the officer that you will not agree to a search.
The consent to search is a truly powerful concept to bear in mind when officers are trying to look for any bit of evidence. Know your rights. You have more say in the matter than you realize.
If ever in doubt, JUST SAY NO.