Much has been written recently about the city of Greensboro requiring its law enforcement officers not only to obtain written consent to search, when probable cause does not exist, but also to inform suspects that consent to search can be refused.
Attorney A. Brennan Aberle wrote in the News & Record ("Letter opposing written consent misleads," Aug. 23) that consent should be obtained in writing and that suspects should be informed of their right to refuse to give consent.
As a lawyer, I write a weekly newsletter for a local law enforcement agency. My opinions in this article in no way speak for that agency.
In the course of mining North Carolina appellate opinions for subjects for the newsletter, I find that search and seizure is perhaps the most frequent criminal subject litigated. Consent searches are often mentioned; consent may or may not be contested.
Aberle writes that hours are spent in court arguing over whether consent was freely given. One, I question whether hours of courtroom time are, in fact, consumed by litigating consent searchers, and two, if it is true, that is the function of courts: to give forum to legal arguments.
The law imposes more than sufficient restraints governing law enforcement officers' conduct when searching and seizing. To add additional steps by requiring written consent and informing of the right to refuse consent is not only to burden officers with yet another procedure but also to trigger the Law of Unintended Consequences: suspects arguing they did not understand the forms.
The proposals also would prevent officers from discovering evidence. Consent searches are trees that often bear exceptionally good criminal fruit.
Impeding access to those trees is not only senseless but duplication when consent must, by city policy, be captured on officers' body-worn cameras.
The writer is a retired attorney who lives in Greensboro.
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