How Do Police Officers Usually Search A Vehicle in Utah?

Interviewer: How will the police officer usually introduce the idea of searching a vehicle?  How will they usually ask for permission and if someone wants to deny, how will they usually respond?

Matthew Nebeker: Well, I had a case recently where the officer explained to me on the witness stand that it’s a part of his training even to just ask someone if they mind if they search them or the car or the backpack or belongings because they find it easier for them if the person consents because if the person consents, there is not a lot to litigate unless, there were some indication of the duress or coercion. I would say about 90 per cent of the time, the people consent even knowing that they have controlled substance on them, they’ll consent.  But then, there is the few that don’t consent and you know, they say, “I’m not going to allow you to search my stuff”. Then, what will happen is the officer will try and find another reason to place them under arrest for, you know, maybe it’s disorderly conduct or, you know, of the open container or something like that, so they place him under arrest for something and then, they can do that inventory search.

If the Officer Suspects Drug Possession, He May Contact the K9 Unit

For instance, if the officer does think the person has drugs on them, they will try and call out the K9 Unit, which is, you know, the drug sniffing dog and see if the dog hits on them supposedly, that’s what they call it.  And if, you know, that officer is only a few minutes away or a couple of miles away, then that’s not going to unreasonably delay my client from, you know, proceeding on his way, so then why are you trying to get the K9 unit down there?  And I think one of the last tactics that they try is the all that “Well, why don’t you want me to search your stuff if you don’t have nothing to hide?” they’ll use that kind of logic, kind of “Well, you must be hiding something if you don’t want me to search it.  And so why don’t you just let me search it?”  And that’s where I say that they’re getting into coercion.  They’re trying to obtain that consent through pressure and coercion.

An Attorney Knows How To Politely Refuse When Asked for a Vehicle Search

I had an attorney telling me that he was traveling and he was in another state and he would just pull over a speeding ticket or something and the officer concluded the speeding ticket, given this ticket and then, as he was getting a way to leave and officer says “Well, you got any contraband and/or any knifes, drugs, weapons on you anything like that?”  And you know the attorney said “No, I don’t”.  And the officer says “Well, do you mind if I search?”, and the attorney responded well “No.  I don’t want you to search.  You can’t search.”  The officer responded “Well, are you hiding something?  Why wouldn’t you want me to search unless you have something?”  And the attorney basically told him “You know what?  Am I free to leave because if I don’t consent, you have to have a probable cause to search my vehicle. The attorney just kept asking the officer “Am I free to leave?  Am I free to leave?”  And you know, that’s what you know people should do you know.  When the officer asks them about contraband or if they can have consent to search them and that’s what they need to do is ask him “Am I free to leave?  Am I free to leave?”  Because if they’re not, the officer will have to justify why they’re not because then, it becomes into an unlawful detention and an unlawful seizure.

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