Consent to Search – What You Need to Know

Your Fourth Amendment rights require that police have a warrant, or a warrant exception, to search anywhere you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This means your home. This also means a backpack or a purse, or the pockets of your jeans. If they do not have a warrant, or a warrant exception, such as consent, it is an Illegal Search. Consent is the most common exception to the warrant requirement. This happens when you allow a police officer to search your home or your car without a warrant. Police officers can make it difficult to say ‘no.’

Police officers can make it difficult to say ‘no.’ In the heat of the moment, it is hard enough to refuse even when you do know your rights. Often, they will tell you that you are “making it easier on yourself.” This is never true. In real life, cops want to make it easier on themselves so they don’t have to go to the trouble of getting a warrant. If you say ‘yes,’ a search warrant and probable cause are not required.

Consent Must be Free and Voluntary

In order to waive your Fourth Amendment rights, your consent must be free and voluntary. If a police officer coerces you or tricks you into letting them search, it is not free or voluntary. For instance, if a police officer lies to you about having a warrant, and you say, “Oh well, I may as well let you look around.” Crucially, you can revoke your consent at any time. But you must clearly state that you are doing so.

Roommate Consent

If you have a roommate and he/she allows a police search of your shared residence, the scope of the search only extends to common areas. Common areas include the kitchen, living room, or bathroom. Your roommate generally cannot give consent that allows police to search your bedroom.

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