Does An Officer Need Probable Cause To Request Consent To Search Your Vehicle?
No Probable Cause Necessary For Request To Search Vehicle
An officer can ask anyone for consent to search their vehicle. An officer only needs probable cause to search your vehicle if you do not consent to the search of your vehicle. The officer does not have to tell you that you can refuse. However, an officer cannot treat a lack of response as consent to search. An officer also cannot obtain lawful consent to search your vehicle by coercing consent by doing things like saying if you do not consent to the search of your vehicle you will be arrested.
No Consent To Search Your Vehicle Creates Suspicion
Refusing to consent to the search of your vehicle is normally going to cause the officer to become more suspicious and the officer will start saying things like what do you have to hide and if you do not have anything illegal in the vehicle then why do you care if I search it. Officers also say things like if you are honest with me it will be better for you. All of these statements are just attempts at changing your mind to allow an officer to search your vehicle because they do not have probable cause to search your vehicle. If the officer did have probable cause to search your vehicle and you refused the officer would just search it anyway. Refusing the search of your vehicle does not create probable cause which would allow the officer to search the vehicle.
Why Ask For Consent If Probable Cause Already Exists To Search The Vehicle?
So why would an officer ask for consent to search a vehicle if the officer already believes that probable cause exists to search the vehicle? An officer will ask for consent to search the vehicle because if the officer is wrong about the probable cause belief then the vehicle search is still legal because of your consent to search the vehicle. Therefore, any illegal items will not be excluded from evidence for an illegal search with a motion to suppress. Consent to search the vehicle means the officer does not have to risk losing evidence as the result of an illegal search if the officer is wrong about having probable cause to search the vehicle.