How Police Get Permission to Conduct a Search

When you give your consent for a search, the police don't need a warrant, or even probable cause.

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If a defendant freely and voluntarily agrees to a search, the search is valid and whatever the officers find is admissible in evidence. No equivalent to Miranda warnings  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 (U.S. v. Drayton, U.S. Sup. Ct. 2002; Ohio v. Robinette, U.S. Sup. Ct. 1996).

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

Officer: Good afternoon. I’m Officer Mayer. Is your name Sue?

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

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

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?

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.

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 Sue’s house, and in a corner of her living room closet notices hundreds of blank DVDs. The officer arrests Sue for producing pirated DVDs and seizes the blank DVDs.

Under these circumstances, a judge would undoubtedly rule that the officer legally seized the blank DVDs. Though the officer had neither a warrant nor probable cause to search Sue’s house, Officer Mayer’s search was valid because 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 Sue consented to the entry before it was made.

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