Being confronted by a police officer is always an intimidating and high-stakes situation. What you say next could have huge consequences. However, the police have limitations. If an officer wants to conduct a search of your car, house, office or other property, they may need a warrant to do so. It's important to know your rights and understand how to respond in this situation.
When can police search me without a warrant?
1. An officer may search without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe they will find criminal evidence. For example, if you are pulled over for a burned-out taillight but an illegal substance is in plain view in your car, the officer could search the vehicle without a warrant.
2. If there is an emergency, such as yells for help inside the property or a criminal fleeing a scene onto your property, police may search without a warrant.
3. If you consent to a search, the officer can legally search you, even if the search would have otherwise needed a warrant. Never consent to a search unless the officer actually has a warrant that they can show you.
What do I do if an officer wants to search without a warrant?
Verbally refuse the search. You should always remain polite around an officer but clearly state, "I do not consent to a search."
Never physically resist an officer. Do not block them from entering or push/fight back. If an officer starts searching your property illegally, state again, "Officer, I do not consent to a search." Even if they find incriminating evidence against you, it cannot be used in court if the search was illegal.
If an officer claims they do have a warrant to search you, kindly ask to see it. If they refuse to show it, verbally refuse the search, saying that you do not consent without seeing a valid warrant.
What to do afterwards
If you believe your rights were violated or that evidence against you was gathered illegally, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. You have a right to call and seek legal representation, even if you have been arrested. An attorney can review your situation and build a strong defense against your charges.