Section III: Warrantless and Consent Searches

  This section discusses when a warrantless search may be legally justified because the person in control of the property is said to have agreed to it.

  18. If I Agree to a Search, Is the Search Legal Even If a Police Officer Doesn't Have a Warrant or Probable Cause to Search?

  Yes. If a defendant freely and voluntarily agrees to a search, the search is valid and whatever the officers find is admissible in evidence.

  For example, assume that Officer Mayer knocks on the door of Caryn-Sue's house. Officer Mayer suspects that Caryn-Sue is part of a group of suspects who are making pirated videotapes, but the officer lacks probable cause to search her house or arrest her. When Caryn-Sue answers the door, the following conversation takes place:

  Officer: Good afternoon. I'm Officer Mayer. Is your name Caryn-Sue?

  Caryn-Sue: Yes, it is. What can I do for you, officer?

  Officer: I'm investigating the production of pirated videotapes, and I'd like to talk to you.

  Caryn-Sue: Well, I'm not sure I can help you. I'm not under arrest or anything, am I?

  Officer: No, but you may have information that can help the investigation. Do you mind if I come in and look around?

  Caryn-Sue: I'm in the middle of a couple of things. Could you come back later?

  Officer: If that's necessary. But it won't take long.

  Caryn-Sue: We might as well get it over with if you can hurry. Look around all you want, there's nothing here of interest to you.

  Officer Mayer enters Caryn-Sue's house, and in a corner of her living room closet notices hundreds of blank videotapes. The officer arrests Caryn-Sue for producing pirated videotapes, and seizes the blank videotapes.

  Under these circumstances, a judge would undoubtedly rule that the officer legally seized the blank videotapes. Though the officer had neither a warrant nor probable cause to search Caryn-Sue's house, Officer Mayer's search was valid because Caryn-Sue agreed to let the officer search her house. The fact that the officer was politely insistent on entering the house does not overcome the fact that Caryn-Sue consented to the entry before it was made.

  19. Does a Police Officer Have to Warn Me That I Have a Right to Refuse to Consent to a Search?

  No. No equivalent to Miranda warnings (see Chapter 1, Section II) exists in the search and seizure area. Police officers do not have to warn people that they have a right to refuse consent to a search. (Ohio v. Robinette, U.S. Sup. Ct. 1996.)

  Case Example: Jaime Costello is sitting on a park bench. Officer Abbot approaches Costello and asks to look through his backpack. Costello replies, "Sure, go ahead, I guess I can't stop you." The officer finds illegal drugs in Costello's backpack, and arrests him.

  Question: Are the drugs admissible in evidence?

  Answer: Yes. The search was valid, since Costello gave his consent. Officer Abbot had no duty to clear up Costello's misconception that he had no choice but to consent.