Sunday, August 28, 2005

Would drivers with contraband consent to searches?

Kimberly liked Grits' recent posts on racial profiling, but ponders, "I'm a little torn about written consent to search vehicles. I'm not sure who would consent, knowing they are carrying contraband..."

Thanks for the shout out, Kimberly. That's an understandable worry, though keep in mind that we're only talking about cases where police have no reasonable suspicion to search.

Even so, it's a strange-but-true fact that drivers carrying contraband still consent to vehicle searches at about the same rate both verbally and in writing. When Austin PD implemented a requirement for written consent in 2003, for example, the total number of consent searches dropped by more than 60%, but the
rate at which officers discovered contraband remained flat, at just over 12%.

It may not make logical sense, but empirically, drivers with contraband are not more likely than others to deny officers written consent to search.

Consent searches have been a favorite Grits topic. See coverage of Texas' vetoed legislation that would have required written or recorded consent to search at traffic stops here, here, here, here, here, here, and the veto report here.

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