The majority of citizens in Virginia have little to do with law enforcement each day. If someone has never been involved with the law, then they may not be fully aware of their legal rights.
If a police officer informs you that they are going to search you, how should you respond? Is it lawful for them to do this? It depends on the situation.
Was there reasonable suspicion?
For the law to function correctly, a balance must be struck between the liberty of the individual and security. Police officers cannot simply stop you from going about your daily business because they feel like it. This applies to searches as well.
For a search to be lawful, police officers must have a genuine belief that a crime may have been committed, in other words, reasonable suspicion.
What if you’re in a vehicle?
Much like when you are out on foot, police officers can’t just interrupt you because they feel like it. They can pull you over if they have reasonable suspicion that an offense has been committed. However, they cannot search your vehicle without a valid warrant or probable cause. Probable cause is essentially a stronger inclination that an offense has been or will be committed.
Can you refuse a search?
Without reasonable suspicion, probable cause or a valid warrant, police officers can only search you if you provide consent. They may give you the impression that you must give this, but it wouldn’t be consent if you had no say. It’s always wisest to clearly and affirmatively state that you do not consent to a search (even if the police proceed anyhow) so you can preserve your rights.
If you’re facing criminal charges then this is very serious. Getting in touch with someone who has knowledge of the criminal law will help you to come up with a suitable defense strategy.