Many people are taught growing up that they must be respectful to police officers and submit to their authority. Police officers do come into harm's way quite frequently and work hard to protect society as a whole. However, respecting police officers does not equate giving up your rights.
You have a right to privacy that is specifically protected by the Florida Constitution. You also have a right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. This right is fundamental as is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment. The police cannot violate this right without a warrant unless one of the following circumstances occurs:
- You have given the officer consent to search,
- The officer has probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle (probable cause must come from specific facts and circumstances, rather than simply from the officer's gut feeling or suspicion),
- The officer reasonably believes a search is necessary for their own protection, or
- You have been arrested and the search is related to that arrest.
If you are stopped and a police officer asks to search your person or your vehicle, you can say no. Now, I highly suggest doing so in a non-threatening, respectful manner. I might say something such as, "Officer, with all due respect, I am utilizing my 4th Amendment right and denying your request to search my car." I would then follow up this statement by asking the officer two very important questions: 1) am I being detained, and 2) am I free to leave.
It is important to note, that if you tell the officer he or she cannot search your person or the vehicle, the officer, in Florida, might request a K-9 dog sniff unit to the scene. Florida law permits the officer to detain you for a very short amount of time to conduct a dog sniff if there is probable cause for the traffic stop in the first place. However, the amount of time that the officer is allowed to conduct the dog sniff is the amount of time that it takes to write a traffic citation. It has been found to be unconstitutional for officers to hold you any longer than that and is the grounds for exclusion of evidence.
By staying calm and remembering your rights, you can have successful interactions with police officers.