If the police ask if they can search, can you put limits on where or how they can search?
The answer is yes… and no.
If the police search is based on consent, the person giving consent can set limits as to the scope of the search. For example, you could give consent for the police to search for a stolen washing machine, but that would not allow them to look in places were a washing machine could not be found. You can also limit the areas. You could allow a search of your garage, but not the main house or vice versa. You can put whatever limits on the consent you give. It could be by location, for particular items, time, etc. You could (for example) allow the police to search your car’s passenger compartment but not the trunk. You could allow a five minute search. Whatever the terms are must be adhered to by the police or they are exceeding the scope of consent.
If the police exceed the scope of consent, unless they have probable cause or a warrant or other independent grounds to have legal access to search any evidence found is subject to being suppressed in court.
Once given, consent can also be withdrawn. Once consent is withdrawn unless the police have independent grounds to search, the search is over and anything found after consent is withdrawn is subject to being excluded.
That’s the “yes” part of the answer.
The “no” part comes from whether or not the scope of consent is clear or whether or not during the authorized search the police develop independent grounds to either continue searching, freeze the location and get a warrant or do other things that lead to unintended results. So if in your limited consent search, if the police gather enough information to have probable cause to search, they could (potentially) continue to search beyond where you tried to limit them or they could get a warrant and come back to continue the search.
Granting consent for any portion of a search can snowball with unintended results.
Can you fight a “consent search” in court?
Keep in mind that just because you gave consent or the police say you gave consent to search, it doesn’t necessarily mean game over. Consent must be freely and voluntarily given in order to be valid. Many police departments have their officers wear recording devices, so every word said by both the officer and you can be examined.
If you’re facing criminal charges based on a search that you may or may not have consented to, give me a call or send an email. I practice in all Orange County courthouses.