[Ed: Back in 2015, Dean pointed out the potential perils of consenting to a search of your vehicle during a traffic stop, even if “you don’t have anything to hide.” That advice is just as valid today.]
It has become a hallmark of advice from lawyers: do not give consent to police officers to search your vehicle or your home. If they have probable cause to perform a search, they don’t need to ask. Politely refuse to give consent if they make the request.
Believing that you “have nothing to hide” is escapist fantasy in today’s world of multiple overlapping and vague criminal laws. Are you certain that the pretty bird feather that your daughter picked up on your walk in the woods and left under the back seat isn’t from a hawk or eagle?
Possession of some feathers is a federal crime. Did a .22 shell slip out of your range bag and under the seat of the car? It’s a crime in D.C. And if you’re in New Jersey, you better hope it’s not a hollow point round.
In this case, Chris Johnson, an NFL player, has a Florida concealed carry permit. When he was pulled over, he thought he had nothing to hide and agreed to a search of his vehicle.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the 29-year-old was pulled over for rolling through a stop sign, per a source close to the player. The police officer asked to search his car. Johnson cooperated, as he had nothing to hide. The police found his licensed and registered firearm under a book bag under his seat instead of locked up in the car.
Johnson was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of openly carrying a firearm. Other reports indicate that the handle of the gun may have been exposed when the police officer approached the driver.
The “open carry” charge seems quite a stretch, either way. If the officer had to search the vehicle to find the firearm, it was clearly concealed, and Johnson wasn’t violating the law because he has a Florida concealed carry permit. If the officer could only see the firearm by coming up close to the window and looking in, it’s a stretch to call that openly carrying the firearm, especially under the state’s “brief and open” display exception.
Officers who ask to search your car are trained to make the request seem casual and off the cuff. Don’t expect the officer to ask, “Do you surrender your 4th Amendment rights?” in an official tone of voice.
The request is likely to start off low-key and informal. “Do you mind if I have a look in your car?” is a common approach. Intimidation may be used if you make a polite refusal. “If you don’t let me look in your car, I will have to get a warrant, and then you will be in trouble,” may be stated in a more threatening manner.
The answer to all these requests should be the same: “No, I do not consent to a search of my car. I do not surrender any of my constitutional rights. Am I free to go?”
It’s even better if you record these interactions with the police. (The ability to record police in the public performance of their duties has been ruled a First Amendment right.) That way there will be no “he said/she said” as seems to be developing in the Johnson case.
Johnson is vulnerable because he is subject to extra-judicial punishments from the NFL. The NFL is owned by powerful people who fully endorse the disarmist agenda. His career may be significantly hurt for daring to exercise his second amendment rights.
©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch