Court of Appeals Rules on Race and Voluntary Consent of Searches

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “What am I obligated to do if I’ve been pulled for Drinking and Driving?”


Throughout the country, we often hear a lot of debate about an individual, or his or her property, being subjected to search by law enforcement. The Fourth Amendment of the constitution gives us the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. While there are many cases and court opinions that detail when law enforcement is able to search an individual, or his or her property, we often forget that an individual is able to voluntarily consent to a search. With voluntary consent to search comes a whole host of questions. Can a voluntary search be inferred? Are there particular factors that indicate a person has consented to a search? In the recent case of State v. Bartlett, the North Carolina Court of Appeals found that an individual’s race may be a factor in deciding whether or not a person has voluntarily consented to a search.


Police-car-light-Charlotte-Monroe-Mooresville-Criminal-Defense-Law-Firm-300x201In State v. Bartlett, five police officers were conducting a traffic stop of a vehicle. The passenger of the vehicle was a suspected drug dealer. The defendant passenger was ordered out of the vehicle. The defendant consented to a search by the officers. While the police officers were conducting a search of the defendant, they found heroin. Following his arrest, the defendant claimed that the search at the traffic stop was not voluntary. Instead, the defendant claimed that “people of color view a request to search by the police as an inherently coercive command.” The defendant was black. The defendant’s argument is based mostly on an article in the court’s opinion. The article presents the information that minorities are more likely to be stopped by law enforcement and asked to be searched. This increase in frequency of the stops, coupled with historic unfair treatment of minority groups, result in minorities feeling more pressure to consent to a search, making the consent potentially not voluntary.


The court does not completely reject this argument. Instead, the court states that “race may be a relevant factor in considering whether consent was voluntary under the totality of the circumstances.” This means that race can be a factor in considering whether consent was voluntary, but it must be examined along with other factors surrounding the search; meaning that consent is not automatically involuntary because of race, but can be a factor. In State v. Bartlett, the court did not find that the consent was involuntary. There was only one officer interacting with the defendant, there was no evidence that there was a threat, physical contact, or use of a weapon. Additionally, the defendant did not testify that he was not aware that he was able to refuse the search. Even though there was no involuntary consent to search, the court still find that race could be a factor in determining voluntary consent.


If you have questions or concerns surrounding a search of your person, car, or home conducted by law enforcement, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Our defense attorneys know the importance of your rights and how to protect them. Contact us today for a consultation. If you find yourself facing criminal charges and need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or our new office in Monroe (by appointment only until 2019), please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.








The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.




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