Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Although these suggestions are based on how the system is supposed to work in "theory" the reality is that police officers can do anything they want to and some do not always follow the guidelines. However, like any other profession (lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc.) there are some bad apples who completely disregard the law in their pursuit of their job.

One of the most important things to remember is that IF a police officer asks to search you without arresting you, you can always say "NO." The first thing to do upon being asked to search you or your vehicle, is to ask the police officer, "Am I under arrest?" If the officer answers, ANYTHING but yes; you are free to decline the search. Regardless of promises to "go easy on you;" if you consent to a search and they fined something illegal in your possession, you will most likely be charged for the offense anyway.

Additionally, if the officer believes they are in danger or if they have "reason to believe you are carrying a weapon" they can search you. They are not supposed to search for items other then weapons or items that may be used as weapons.

You would be surprised at the number of people who would have avoided any criminal prosecution whatsoever if they simply would have said "no" to the initial request for a search. However, if you say "yes" to the search and they do find something illegal in your possession; you can be charged with a crime, as you consented to the warrantless search.

When you decline the search, clearly say to the officer a number of times, that you do not have any weapons on you, and you do not consent to the search. If you are lucky, there maybe be other witness around you who may also hear you say this. If the officer goes ahead and searches you without your consent; and finds something illegal in your possession; technically, the search is illegal and you cannot be convicted of that particular offense.

Lastly, there is something known as an "impound search." In Los Angeles County, many local ordinances will not allow police officers to leave your vehicle on the street, should they take you into custody. This is a very sneaky way of getting to search your vehicle without your consent. These ordinances state that prior to your vehicle being taken to the "police lot" for "safe keeping" while you are being booked or further interrogated; they can do an "inventory search" of your vehicle for "the protection of your property." Unfortunately courts have found these types of searches and any illegal evidence obtained during these searches to be completely legal.

Although these rules may be a bit confusing, the important thing to remember is that the police are supposed to be able reasonably demonstrate you have committed a crime, before they can arrest you. You are under no duty to help this process along.