You get pulled over while driving with friends. You know that you don’t have any illegal substances in your car, but you worry that your friend may. All of your luggage is in the trunk.
The officer talks to you for a few minutes, runs your license, and then asks if you’ll pop the trunk so they can take a quick look. They say it nicely, but you don’t want to do anything to incriminate yourself. Can you refuse their request?
You do not have to give consent
First and foremost, the officer is looking for your consent. You do not have to give it. You can politely say no and tell them you’d rather not open the trunk. Even if they say this as an order, they’re really asking a question, and you have a right to answer any way you want. It is not illegal to say no and you cannot be arrested for saying no.
Does that mean the officer has no other options? Certainly not. They can go get a warrant, which will force you to let them look, just as a home search warrant means they can enter your house without permission. This is a legal option, though the officer did not have a warrant when they pulled you over.
They may also be able to search your car if they have probable cause. The key here is that they have to demonstrate in court that they did have a reason. An officer cannot simply stop every car and force drivers to open the trunk, searching for drugs. But, if they have a valid reason to believe that you have drugs, then they can open the trunk to look.
They can also perform a search if there are items in plain view. Maybe your friend has drug paraphernalia sitting on the seat next to them. The officer sees that when they stop the car. It’s in plain view, so they haven’t violated your friend’s rights, but they may then use that to search the rest of the car, assuming you have drugs in it somewhere.
Defending yourself after an arrest
This type of arrest can get quite complex, and the ramifications are serious. You must know your defense options.