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Op-ed from St. Helens resident Bill Allen regarding proposed legislation requiring police officers to give a Miranda-like warning prior to conducting searches

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Allen: Many citizens believe consent is mandatory. Police officers insist citizens understand consent is voluntary, so why are they against the legislation?

The Friday, March 3, Spotlight had an article titled, "Lawmakers consider Miranda-like warning about searches."

It simply says if an officer wishes to search your vehicle without probable cause — "just cuz" — and with the clear assumption that you are guilty of potential criminal activity until they verify your innocence, they must inform you that your consent is voluntary.

Many citizens believe consent is mandatory. Police officers insist citizens understand consent is voluntary, so why are they against the legislation? Meanwhile, please consider the implications of current police policy. One night you get a knock on your door. You answer the door and an officer asks if you have any illegal drugs or contraband in the house. You answer, "No."

The officer then asks if you would mind if he searches your house.

Now — mind you — unlike a search warrant, this would be an open-ended search, and anything found would be legally obtained evidence in a criminal case against you.

Regardless, I would like to believe most principled people would say, "Absolutely not."

This scenario sounds highly unlikely, doesn't it?

In 2005 my son was pulled over by the St. Helens Police Department for an expired tag. It was daytime in a well-traveled section of Gable Road. The officer asked my son to exit the vehicle and then patted him down for a "routine" weapons search.  

The United States Supreme Court has held [Terry v. Ohio, 1968] that a police officer must have additional, reasonable, articulable suspicion that the individual to be searched is armed with a dangerous weapon and is presently dangerous. This was the first legal impropriety.

The officer asked if there were drugs in the car. My son answered, "No." The officer asked if he could search the vehicle. My son, again, "No."

The officer asked if he had something to hide and my son responded, "No, I have something to protect, my constitutional right against unreasonable search."

My son was cited for an expired tag and the vehicle was impounded.

Over the next few months I asked a number of our young people if any had similar experiences. I was told

of a few encounters similar to the one related above. When asked if they had given consent for a search the answer was always "yes" — because otherwise, they might get arrested. 

Meeting with former Scappoose Police Chief Douglas Greisen, I expressed my concerns with consent searches. Greisen stated the consent searches were perfectly legal and would continue. Although legal, the bigger question is, are consent searches ethical?

At a minimum, they are a clear infringement on the intent of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.

The consent search request is a standard practice in law enforcement. For those who would argue it leads to more arrests, if you believe that the ends justify the means, go find a United States Constitution and burn it. If you have no problem living in a police state, we can be incredibly safe, crime will be almost non-existent, and you may go anywhere that you want, in your zone, during the non-curfew hours. Make sure that you have a properly approved, officially signed and dated citizen-movement pass.

This is the slippery slope that we all love to talk about.

Biill Allen lives in St. Helens.

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