I grabbed Dan as we drove from New York to Connecticut over Labor Day weekend. “Look! A cop just pulled over a U-Haul. I need a picture!” I scramble through my purse trying to get my phone out, but I’m too late. “Do you want me to turn around?” Dan asks. I consider his proposition. Get the perfect picture for my blog or be less late than we already are. I’m sorry I failed you, blog readers. Hopefully, you’ll forgive me one day when these tips save you precious time after cops stop your U-Haul.
Do NOT Mistake This Post for Legal Advice
In the midst of all our moves, I decided to get a law degree. Since I’m not currently practicing law, I cannot give you legal advice. Disclaimer: This is NOT legal advice. I’m just going to share the tips I told my husband after taking criminal law classes. It’s like getting legal advice from Law & Order, but probably less accurate because things change all the time and I’m not getting paid to be a legal consultant for a hit TV show. You get what you pay for, people.
Know Your Rights – Again, Not Legal Advice
If you get pulled over by the police in your U-Haul truck, you probably don’t want them to search it. We weren’t hiding anything, but the last thing we wanted was to open our U-Haul truck on the side of the highway. If the cops decided to take everything out, I would’ve given up and left it all there. I couldn’t pack that truck again. Luckily, I paid attention in my criminal law class, and I shared my knowledge with my husband. When the police asked Dan to open the U-Haul, he said, “No.” You should do the same.
Our U-Haul Incidents Driving Cross-Country
My husband drove our U-Haul across the country from Ohio to California. As soon as we entered California, a police officer pulled over our U-Haul. We didn’t know the speed limit for trucks with trailers (i.e. us). It’s different than the speed limit for cars. Within five minutes of entering the state and driving down a mountain, we got hit with a $300 ticket for going what we thought was the speed limit. The next time we moved, we were super careful. We made sure we stayed at the right speed limit. Strangely enough, we were pulled over again. This is our story:
Police Officer: “Open your truck. I need to search the back.”
Dan: “Did I do something wrong, officer?”
Police Officer: “Let’s just see what you have back there.”
Dan: “Do you have probable cause?”
Police Officer: “I need you to open your truck, Sir.”
Dan: “No. You do not have probable cause or a warrant, so you do not have the right to open my vehicle and search it. I’m not going to open the truck.”
Police Officer (visibly frustrated): “Sir, I need to search the back.”
The police officer had no other option than to drive away. Our U-Haul remained packed exactly as we had packed it and no tickets were issued because we didn’t do anything wrong.
When Can the Cops Search Your U-Haul?
See legal disclaimer above. This is still not legal advice. These are tips I shared with Dan after I took a criminal law class. Use them at your own risk.
The Police Can Search Your U-Haul If:
- You consent. Dan never gave in. You shouldn’t either.
- “Plain view”. If you have a bag of drugs on the console or something illegal on the seat next to you, then it’s in plain view. The officer can search your U-Haul.
- “Search incident to arrest.” If the police officer is arresting you with probable cause for something else, he can search your U-Haul.
- “Probable cause to suspect a crime.” If there’s blood splatter throughout your car and you have a black eye and a torn shirt, the police officer will think something is up and she’ll have probable cause to search your U-Haul.
The Best Way to Refuse Consent
My husband and I felt excited and empowered that we knew our rights and we knew we could say, “No.” It was a real-life example of what I’d studied in books. Ways to handle it better than we did:
- Don’t flaunt that you know your rights. We didn’t need to ask the police if he had probable cause.
- Simply state: “I do not consent to a search of my vehicle.”
- Talk as little as possible. No good ever comes of speaking too much.
- Be respectful. If you must, answer questions simply by stating “Yes, Officer” or “No, Sir/Ma’am.”
- After you state that you do not consent to the search, ask the police if you are free to go. “Officer, am I free to go, Sir?”
- If things escalate and the Officer detains you, always remember to ask for a lawyer. Say, “I will remain silent and I would like to speak to a lawyer.”
In a nutshell, if you aren’t doing anything wrong or suspicious, you need to give consent for the police to search your car or U-Haul. You worked hard to pack your truck in exactly the right order. There’s no need to let the police officer go through your belongings just because he or she asked. You have rights. Protect your rights and your precariously balanced bookcase, chair, bicycle, and lamp. Just say “I do not consent to the search of my U-Haul. Thank you.” It never hurts to be polite.