You don’t have any illegal drugs in the car. You’re sure of it. You have nothing to hide. So, why shouldn’t you let an officer search your car if they ask?
Well, first of all, it’s your right. Unless the police have a warrant or see something illegal in plain sight, a search is often just a pretext to go digging around your vehicle to see if you may have drugs in your possession. If they had reasonable suspicion, they’d get a warrant.
Second, you probably wouldn’t believe what the police have mistaken for drugs in the past. Those cheap roadside testing kits they use are unreliable — but that won’t stop them from making an arrest if something totally benign gives a false positive.
What kinds of things have the police mistaken for drugs?
Surely, the police wouldn’t think a few unrecognizable crumbs or a couple of pieces of dirt on your floor mats are anything concerning, right? Think again. People have been arrested because:
- Kitty litter a driver kept in his car to absorb moisture was flagged as meth by roadside testing, and it took months before the case was dropped.
- Baking soda some long-haul truckers kept handy for their trip was identified as cocaine by a $2 test kit — and the tuckers lost their jobs and spent months in jail before the substance was finally re-tested.
- A few tiny crumbles of glazed sugar fell off some donuts that a 65-year-old man had transported in the car. A police officer spotted it and declared it to be crack cocaine. Testing didn’t help protect the man from arrest because the officer didn’t even use the right test kit.
- Police made an (incorrect) intuitive leap at a traffic stop that some Jolly Ranchers candies were actually meth. That case ended in a federal lawsuit — but not before the driver was put through a humiliating arrest process.
Know your rights: Decline any requests to search your vehicle. If the police proceed, you can at least use the fact that you refused permission as part of your defense. If you’ve been arrested on drug charges, you need to explore all possible defenses.