What Type of Search May Be Conducted Without a Warrant?

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What is a Search Warrant?

The phrase search warrant refers to an order signed by a judge that authorizes police officers to search a specific place for specific objects or items. The objective of such a search would be to conduct a criminal investigation. Search warrants often include areas such as a person’s house or office.

U.S. citizens have diverse rights to privacy, including the right not to have their houses or belongings searched by law enforcement unless correct processes are followed. One of these procedures is getting a search warrant before police may enter into the individual’s house to search it in association with a criminal probe.

What is Probable Cause?

To have a search warrant administered, the police officer must demonstrate to a judge that there is probable cause. There must be some basis of the belief that evidence on the property or premises connects with a crime.

Probable cause is the legal measure used in criminal inquiries. An example of probable cause will be if the police obtain a suggestion from several individuals that illegal drugs are being held in a specific home. It may be considered probable cause to think that drug trafficking is happening at that location.

In short, to gather evidence of a crime from a person’s home or other generally private areas, police must usually obtain a search warrant. Police cannot receive a search warrant until they have proved probable cause to do so. Further, the search warrant must be well defined regarding the property to be searched and approved by a neutral and detached judge.

What is the Fourth Amendment?

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution safeguards citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officers. A search and seizure are considered excessive if conducted by officers without a valid search warrant and do not fall under an exception to the warrant requirement.

What Kind of Search May Be Performed Without a Search Warrant?

Once the police have secured a lawful search warrant, they may search the established premises for the specific evidence they are looking for. Nonetheless, there are some particular circumstances where the police may search for evidence without first getting a search warrant.

These circumstances typically include:

  • Searches made at the time of a lawful arrest, although the police will still require probable cause to make the initial arrest;
  • Searches of a car, as probable cause is still required, such as a proper traffic stop;
  • The person to be searched delivers their consent without first being presented with a search warrant;
  • “Stop and frisk” search, in which the police briefly confine a person to ask them about a crime (probable cause is still required for investigatory detainment, and police are limited to a pat-down search of clothing);
  • Plain view, as in police may consistently search areas that are in plain sight, or out in the open, granted that they are lawfully on the premises to begin with;
  • Police may conduct a quick search of an area if they are in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing suspect; and
  • Evanescent evidence, in which police may search without a warrant if they have grounds to think that important evidence is about to be destroyed, such as drugs being flushed down a toilet.

Each of these situations mentioned above involves precise details regarding the limits of the allowed search. Examples of this could include whether containers may be opened, how far past the premises the police are permitted to search, whether the police must receive permission to open doors and the like. Such details can become quite complicated and normally require an attorney to decipher them.

What Comprises a Lawful Search Warrant?

A proper search warrant must meet four prerequisites:

  1. The warrant must be filed in good faith by a law enforcement officer.
  2. The warrant must be based on trustworthy details showing probable cause to search.
  3. A neutral and detached magistrate must issue the warrant.
  4. The warrant must state expressly the place to be searched and the items to be seized.

Where Can Police Probe, and What Can They Take Under a Search Warrant?

Police may only search the precise area and seize the specific items called for in the search warrant. Police may search beyond the warrant’s scope only if they are guarding their safety or the safety of others or if they are working to stop the destruction of evidence. Police may only take things not defined in the warrant if they are in plain view during the search.

Is it Legal for Police Officer to Pat Me Down Without a Search Warrant?

A police officer may stop an individual and conduct a field interview if the officer has reasonable suspicion that illegal activity has been, is, or is about to be perpetrated. During the field interview, the officer may perform a pat-down search of the outer garments for weapons if they have a valid fear for their own safety and that of others.

What Occurs if a Search Without a Warrant was Illegal?

Criminal procedure laws dictate that any evidence seized as a consequence of an illegal search without a warrant must be banned from any trial or legal proceeding. This is because such evidence is considered to be tainted by the illegal search and may not be entered into the records as evidence.

Suppose a search was performed without probable cause or inconsistently with a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. In that case, the search may be considered illegal. Nevertheless, the exclusion of evidence may be subject to exceptions or restrictions based on jurisdiction. Typically, evidence acquired through illegal searches must be excluded.

This could include any findings that the police could form from the illegally obtained evidence even if the following evidence were collected lawfully.

What If I Believe My Rights Were Violated in Connection With a Police Search?

Suppose you think that your rights were violated in connection with a police search. In that case, you should retain an attorney before proceeding. It might be possible to sue the police for the violation if you suffered losses or harm as a result of the police violation.

What Alternative Do I Have if a Search was Conducted Illegally?

Suppose evidence is gathered without a valid search warrant, and no exception to the warrant requirement applies. In that case, the evidence may be subject to the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule stops illegally obtained evidence from being admitted in a court of law. Evidence gathered based on illegally obtained evidence (known as “fruit of the poisonous tree”) will also be banned.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help With Searches Conducted Without a Warrant?

Suppose you believe your rights were violated in connection with a police search. In that case, you should immediately consult with a professional and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Navigating criminal procedure laws is a complex legal process and essential in protecting your legal rights.

An experienced criminal defense attorney could help you understand and protect those rights, as well as ensure you receive justice if those rights were indeed violated by police. Additionally, an attorney will represent you in court as needed.


16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer