You haven’t done anything wrong, but you’re pulled over anyway. The law enforcement officer asks to search your car. Should that officer be required to tell you about your right to decline the search? Florida lawmakers have started discussions about that very topic for the 2018 legislative session.
Under current law, there are circumstances where law enforcement officers are able to conduct a search, without a warrant.
“For example, where an officer is in fair of his safety, if he believes there may be a weapon present that could harm him, if he’s in eminent harm him, if he or she feels there may be evidence that could be destroyed, if the search is not conducted immediately,” said Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Fort Lauderdale). “Those are already allowed under the law without consent.”
But, Senator Farmer asks, “what about situations where officers require the person’s consent, yet they don’t have it? And, do people know they have the right to decline a search in those cases?”
“One would think that most people are aware of these rights, but numerous studies have been conducted, which show that an individual when approached by a law enforcement officer in uniform is essentially a bit intimidated and they don’t really fully understand that they have the ability to say “no” to that search,” he added.
One such study came from a Department of Justice study from a few years ago.
“Of all the searches that were done, 50 percent of the searches were consensual, as opposed to a warrant search or as opposed to an emergency exigent circumstance-type search,” continued Farmer. “But, of those 50 percent, 78 percent of the people reported believing that they could not refuse the search and that they though the search was illegitimate. ‘I got pulled over for a burnt out taillight and now, I’m getting searched for something that’s more significant than that.’ And, so, that shows that we have a problem, where citizens aren’t sure what the law is.”
So, Farmer says he filed a bill to remedy that.
“Senate 262 would establish a requirement that law enforcement officers advise officials of their rights, particularly that they’re able to refuse a consent of their vehicle,” he stated.
Still, his measure has received some pushback from lawmakers, like Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala). He says instead of creating a legislative fix, he feels the bill is creating a problem and places an added burden on law enforcement.
“And, this just doesn’t go in the direction that I want to give to those who are out there on the frontline,” said Baxley. “And, instead, what you’ve got these law enforcement constantly being reviewed and questioned and an internal investigation, ‘why did you pull this guy over? Why that? You can’t follow your instincts anymore as a law enforcement. You sense that something’s wrong and you investigate it. And, this goes with that sentiment, that says, ‘it’s your duty that they don’t have to cooperate with you.’ Why should I have to tell anybody that they can’t cooperate with me? I don’t get that.”
But, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) disagrees that the bill is negative toward law enforcement.
Still, Bradley says he doesn’t believe it should be up to the legislature to decide such an issue. In addition, he cited the “Exclusionary rule” that’s already in place in the U.S. The legal rule essentially states evidence collected in violation of a person’s constitutional rights is inadmissible in court.
“I love law enforcement, and I think these should be a part of the protocols,” said Bradley. “But, I just don’t want to codify it. And, I see where you’re coming from with this. And, I think people have a right to be left alone if they want to be.”
Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) says he too is conflicted about the bill. But, he says he would lean more toward passing the bill, if some changes were made.
“Standardize the language, just like we have with Miranda rights—to remain silent—to make sure that there are some standardized language as to what officers must say or should say in regards to search of papers, effects, and property,” said Brandes.
Meanwhile, as for the bill’s sponsor Senator Farmer, he says his goal is making sure Floridians’ rights are enforced, not letting criminals get away with committing crimes. And, he says he intends to work on addressing the concerns expressed by lawmakers, before it comes back up again for another hearing in its first committee.
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