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Document Type

Article

Abstract

One area in which law enforcement agencies have stretched constitutional limits concerns the scope of a suspect’s consent to search his or her vehicle. Police forces across the country have tested the limits of consent by asking vague, conversational questions to suspects with the goal of obtaining a suspect’s consent to search, even though that individual may not want to allow the search or may not know that he or she has the right to deny consent.

Conversational phrases like “Can I take a quick look?” or “Can I take a quick look around?” have “emerg[ed] as . . . a regular part of police jargon.” When people answer these questions in the affirmative—thus consenting to a search—courts have diverged on the question of what people have actually agreed to. Have they given up any right at all? Or, have they just consented to a full search?

Part I of this Note will describe the history of consent and its interplay with the U.S. Constitution. Part II will then examine and analyze how courts have interpreted the scope of consent in a variety of “conversational consent search” cases. Finally, Part III will analyze a variety of potential solutions to the issues conversational consent searches present and ultimately propose that courts should adopt a narrow interpretation of the search scope granted by a conversational consent.