Unless police have a warrant or your situation falls into one of the exceptions, police cannot search you unless you agree to the search. If you agree, this is called giving your “consent” (agreement).
There can be times in ordinary life (when not dealing with police) when we might show our consent without words. For example, if you hand your friend a pen, it is probably because you consent to them using it; if you open your front door to a family member, it is probably because you consent to them coming in.
But when it comes to consenting to a search or seizure by police, the law requires that your consent be clear. In addition, your consent must be informed and voluntary, meaning you need enough information to make an educated decision, and you must not have been deprived of a choice in providing it.
Usually, valid consent can only be provided by you and not anyone else on your behalf.
Police officers in some situations have tried to argue that because a person did not object out loud to the search means the person had consented. For example, if a police officer asks you to hand over your bag, or tells you to show them what’s in your pockets – and you do what they tell you without saying anything –in some cases, police have tried to argue that they had your consent because you went along with it and did not say “no.”
Rights advocates like CCLA believe that it is only real consent if you actually agreed. If you did not say anything to the police or went along with their instructions – and if the real reason for this was because you did not feel free to say no, because you felt intimidated or worried about what the officers might do to you, or because you thought that the law required you to follow the police officer’s instructions – we would argue that this is not real consent. Without real consent, and without a valid reason to search you, searches are not lawful.
The courts have many times agreed with rights advocates. But there have also been times when some courts have considered it “consent” to a search, as long as the person had not objected out loud.