Consenting to Search

NYPD wants suspects to sign search consent form

The New York City Police Department wants suspects to sign a consent form before searching their homes or cars, a move that eliminates the need for a warrant and is meant to provide police a layer of legal protection, Newsday has learned.
The initiative was put in place because consent searches are often challenged at trial – and jurors too often believe the suspect’s claim that police never got permission to conduct the search, police sources said.
At the same time, sources said, there has been concern within the NYPD about a handful of cases in which an officer’s truthfulness was recently called into question.
In one case, a federal judge said he found it “wholly plausible” that a sergeant forced his way into a Bronx apartment to conduct a search despite the sergeant’s contention otherwise.

Good for the juries. Interesting that a PD has taken it upon itself (instead of being forced by legislators as has happened in other places) to require signed consent forms. The good thing about signed forms (in addition to the reasons above) is that their existence at least provide a modicum of implied notification to the target regarding the fact that it is their right not to consent.
In areas where signed consent is required, the number of searches has dropped dramatically.
Now the real question is, why would anyone ever consent to a search?
Sure, the canned law enforcement quip is “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.” But regular readers know my response to that:

Sometimes people say I shouldn’t mind being searched if I have nothing to hide. I immediately accuse them of having a swastika tattooed on their genitalia — if they have nothing to hide, then surely they shouldn’t mind dropping their pants to prove me wrong.

And, of course, even without that thinking the “nothing to hide” bit doesn’t make a bit of sense in consenting to a search.
Think about it. If, in fact, an officer has enough evidence to suspect a crime as determined by various legal regulations, they can search whatever they want with or without your permission.
So in a consent situation, they are saying “Hey, I really don’t have enough reason to believe you committed a crime in order to search you without permission, so would you be willing to let me go through your drawers anyway, so that I might be able to find something to charge you with?”
What person in their right mind agrees to such a thing?
There are two possible scenarios here:

  1. You have nothing illegal in your house/car, (and you’re sure nothing illegal got left there by a previous tenant/passenger). Why waste your time and the cop’s time searching for something that isn’t there? What possible reason should you, as a law abiding citizen, have for agreeing to be put through such an ordeal?
  2. You have something illegal in your house/car. Well, then, I’m guessing you don’t want to get caught. So maybe you shouldn’t invite a law enforcement officer to search it, huh?

Sure, I know, if you don’t consent, then the cop won’t be your friend anymore, and he won’t go to bat for you before the judge. Law enforcement officers are trained to be persuasive (and to lie about what they can do for you) in getting people to consent. And it gets pretty confusing and sometimes terrifying in an encounter with law enforcement.
So just remember two things: if you’re innocent, then don’t consent to a search; if you’re guilty, then don’t consent to a search. It’s easy.

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