Does the Police Need a Warrant to Search?

You may have read a book or watched a TV show or movie about police procedures and come across the idea of a “search warrant.” You might understand that police generally need a search warrant to enter your home and look for evidence. While search warrants are a real thing that law enforcement is concerned about, it is not necessary for all situations.

Where Does the Warrant Requirement Come From?

The warrant requirement for police searches stems from the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describe the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

A search warrant is a kind of court order that authorizes police to conduct a search of a location or even a person—such as their vehicles, pocket, or belongings—for evidence of a crime. The use of warrants by law enforcement derived from British law enforcement practices. However, people complained about the British law enforcement’s use of general warrants to persecute and oppress the Crown’s political adversaries.

That is why the framers of the U.S. Constitution articulated the Fourth Amendment the way they did – to prevent governmental tyranny through invasions of privacy under the pretext of law enforcement. As a result, search warrants must be specific and reasonable under the circumstances.

What Happens with Warrantless Searches?

If the police conduct a warrantless search in circumstances where a warrant was necessary, the defendant can request the court to preclude the results of the illegal search for being admitted at their trial. Courts have held that the prevention of evidence resulting from an illegal search is necessary to protect the integrity of the judicial process.

When Is a Warrantless Search Okay?

Are warrants required for all searches? Not necessarily. Remember, the Fourth Amendment protects individuals against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Thus, if a warrantless search were “reasonable” under the circumstances, any evidence resulting from such a search would be admissible.

Courts have held that warrantless searches are reasonable in situations where there the defendant has no reasonable expectation of privacy or where the police have probable cause to search and there is no time for them to obtain a warrant without risking public safety or the destruction of important evidence.

Warrantless searches are okay in the following scenarios:

  • Consent: If the defendant voluntarily agreed to a police search, they no longer have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the search. However, consent to search can be restricted to specific areas, while preserving their reasonable expectation of privacy for other areas.
  • Plain view: If the evidence in question could be observed from a position the police lawfully occupied, a warrant is not necessary. For example, if the defendant answered the door with a gun sticking out of the top of their shorts, the police do not need a warrant to have discovered the weapon.
  • Lawful arrest: When the police conduct a lawful arrest, they are entitled to search the arrestee’s person for weapons or other items that could endanger the officer’s safety.
  • Exigent circumstances: Police do not need a search warrant if they have probable cause to believe that material evidence or public safety would be in danger in the time it would take to obtain a warrant.
  • Hot pursuit: When police are chasing a fleeing criminal, they can pursue them into a dwelling and search it for the criminal without securing a warrant first.

Consult Ted Morgan Law for Legal Advice

If you are facing criminal charges, it is in your best interest to retain an attorney with experience in criminal defense cases. You can count on Attorney Ted Morgan from Ted Morgan Law to protect and promote your legal rights when it comes to criminal matters.

Call Ted Morgan Law at (706) 622-6255 or contact the office online to schedule a free consultation today.
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