My wife and I had an argument last night. It was not a major one… but it definitely went beyond “heated discussion”. We were talking about what we would do if we were pulled over by the police for whatever reason and we were asked if they could search our car.
There is nothing in our car that is illegal. No drugs. No stolen property. Nothing. A police search of our car would turn up nothing that could be used to charge us with a crime.
And yet, my answer would be “no you may not search the car”. Unfortunately, my wife’s answer would be “sure, you may search”, and she felt that my answer was not a rational one. She felt that all it accomplished was to interfere with the police doing their job (which ultimately should be, and for the most part is, to protect myself and other citizens). I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t believe that the police are just waiting with little bags of drugs to plant in my car so they can charge me. I don’t believe that they are out to get me. I also recognize that, if I were to submit to the search, it would be over in a few minutes and I’d be able to go on my way, whereas if I say no, it will certainly delay things (perhaps significantly), if for no other reason than that at that point, the police will suspect me for something, where before it may just have been a routine search for them.
And yet, even knowing that, if I am ever placed in that position, my answer will still be no to the search.
I tried to explain that I felt that it would be relinquishing my rights to say yes. My wife responded that it wouldn’t be. If I chose to allow the search, I am not giving up my right. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to come up with a rational, well thought out response, and it quickly switched from being a debate about personal freedoms and rights, and became an argument about “who’s right”. Not very productive, so I apologize for my part of the argument, even though I still feel the same. As a matter of fact, now that I’ve written out this posting, and have clearly spelled out WHY that is my answer… I actually feel it even more strongly.
So, here is my answer to her, and to the world, of why I will not voluntarily allow the police to search my car.
To start with, I want to define the specific right I’m talking about. It’s described in the 4th amendment: I have the right to be secure “against unreasonable searches and seizures”. That searches and seizures are to be conducted only when a Warrant is issued based “upon probable cause”.
There are several questions that can be asked, but the main one is what constitutes an “unreasonable search”. My opinion, which may not match the current operating procedures of any police force, and may or may not match my wife’s definition, is that there should be some evidence or suspicion that I am involved in a criminal activity for which a search might find proof of that activity.
I am opposed to a police force targeting a black person just because he’s black. I’m opposed to the TSA conducting invasive searches just because I want to get on a plane. I’m opposed to the police pulling a person over just because they are driving in a place with a known crime problem, or just because of how they are dressed. None of these is evidence of a crime. All of these are a form of “presumed guilty until proven innocent” which is exactly opposite of how things should be. Even if I were pulled over for one crime (speeding, driving with a non-working tail light, or failing to stop at a stop sign), none of these are evidence of a crime that would require a search of my car. So, if I were pulled over under any of these circumstances, and an officer asked if they could search the car, the answer would be no.
Now, if the officer explained that they had a report of a crime, and the general description of the perpetrator matched my general description, I would consider that a reasonable search, and I would agree to that one.
But, the question still remains that if I consented to the search, is that consent in any way impacting my right?
In my opinion, the answer is yes. A human right is a vague thing… until it is exercised. Exercising a right is very similar to exercising a muscle. True, if you do not exercise a muscle, the muscle doesn’t disappear entirely… but it is weakened, and may not be able to perform it’s task when you really need it. Likewise, a right that is not exercised is weakened. It may not be completely gone… but it is definitely less than it was, and less than it should be.
The rights to free speech are protected, not by those who are silent, but by those who exercise their right to speak out. The right to bear arms are protected, not by pacifists who believe nobody should own guns, but by those who own them and want to continue to own them.
The right to be secure from unreasonable search is secured by those who would not give consent for such a search to be conducted. I am one of those people.