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Sep 11

Colorado Right To Refuse A Search Of Your Car Is Protected and Not Evidence Of A Criminal Act

By H. Michael Steinberg Colorado Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer – Attorney

Right To Refuse A Search Of Your Car Is Not Evidence Of Guilt

Right To Refuse A Search Of Your Car Is Not Evidence Of Guilt

Right To Refuse A Search Of Your Car Is Not Evidence Of Guilt – In a new case recently handed down by the Colorado Court of Appeals, *People v. Pollard, the Court sent a resounding message to prosecutors, (this time in Arapahoe County District Court), that the refusal to allow the police permission (consent) to search your car is cannot be used as evidence of guilt at trial!

The Facts of Pollard – Suspicious Vehicle and Plain View Observations

At 3 am in the morning the police spotted what they thought was a suspicious vehicle in a parking lot located in a public par. When the defendant returned to his car with a female friend – they asked about a substance the police could see through the windows of the car that the police thought was crack cocaine. The defendant said it was gum and refused to allow the police to search. Later – the police searched the car under a different theory of law and later prosecuted the Pollard because the substance proved to be cocaine.  The passenger told the police and the jury the drugs were hers – but the jury still convicted the defendant.

At trial – the prosecutor argued that the defendant’s refusal to allow the search was evidence of hs guilt. He said in his opening statement and during the trial that when the officer asked defendant “for consent to search his car and  to remove that bag, ” the defendant said “nobody searches his car”; and  that the defendant was “not real cooperative, ” in that he was not complying with requests to or “readily willing” to “open the door” so that police could recover whatever was sitting on the console.

The Issue: Defendant’s Refusal to Consent to a Search of the Car – Is It Admissible As Evidence?

In closing argument the DA said this: “I[t]’s proper for you to consider that evidence, because, again, the Judge let it in. And when you consider that your reason and common sense tells you what does he have to hide? Why not let him go in?”

While Pollard’s lawyer did not clearly object to this issue at trial – the Court of Appeals found this error was so egregious that the failure to properly object would not prevent the Court from finding this was PLAIN ERROR madating a reversal of the guilty verdict

How important is the right? The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution categorically grants to individuals the right to refuse warrantless entries and searches. A defendant’s due process rights are violated when the prosecution uses at trial the defendant’s refusal to consent to a search. Courts that have directly addressed this question have – almost unanimously – with a few narrow exceptions (se below) – held that a defendant’s refusal to consent to a warrantless search may not be presented as evidence of guilt.

The Reasoning Behind The Rule

[I]f the government could use such a refusal against the citizen, an unfair and impermissible burden would be placed upon the assertion of a constitutional right and future consents would not be ‘freely and voluntarily given.’”

The ability to comment on a defendant’s right under the Fourth Amendment right to refuse consent “would be effectively destroyed if, when exercised, it could be used as evidence of guilt”

The Narrow Exceptions To This “Due Process” Based  Rule

There are very limited instances when a suspect’s evidence of refusal to consent to a search is admissible. Examples include cases where the refusal to search is “introduced, not to impute guilty knowledge to [the defendant], but for the proper purpose of establishing dominion and control over the premises where [drugs may be found] or where a defendant claims at trial that the DEA “planted” cocaine in his truck. Under these circumstances, use of this kind of evidence is not considered ” an unfair penalty” for defendant’s asserting a constitutional privilege lisinopril 10 mg tablet.

The Right To Refuse A Search Of Your Car Is Not Evidence Of Guilt – H. Michael’s Take

For the complete text of this decision – click here: * PEOPLE V POLLARD 2013 COLORADO COURT OF APPEALS

The right to refuse to consent to a search without a search warrant is one of the most sacrosanct constitutional rights we have. The right to not be penalized for exercising such a privilege is paramount and allowing the DA – prosecutor to comment on the exercise of that right places an unfair and impermissible burden on the assertion that would “chill” the very foundations of the right itself. 

It is tough enough on the average citizen not to be intimidated by law enforcement to the point that they have the courage to say no to an illegal search – to later allow the prosecutor to use that assertion against that citizen at trial would be manifestly unfair and was rightfully condemned as plain error in this important 2013. the Right To Refuse A Search Of Your Car Is Not Evidence Of Guilt – believe it.

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