The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects people against "unreasonable searches and seizures." Any evidence that was obtained in violation of the 4th amendment is excluded as evidence and cannot be used against the person in a court of law. Because of this Amendment, a police officer can generally search your home in only two circumstances:
With a Warrant
A warrant is a legal document given by a judge that authorizes police to perform a specific search. The warrant will specify a location and a time for the search, along with the types of materials that can be searched. To obtain a warrant, police must have probable cause concerning criminal activities.
If a police officer has a valid search warrant from a court to search your home because of probable cause, then the police are free to search your home. The warrant must be signed by a neutral judge that gives authorization to police to conduct a search of the particular place identified in the warrant.
Without a Warrant
If a police officer has no search warrant, it may still be possible for the police to search your home. Four situations are generally acceptable:
- Necessary: If the police have a reasonable belief that their immediate action in searching your home is necessary to prevent a harm to a person or property, then the police are free to search your home.
- Plain View: If a police officer can see something illegal within your home from where he or she is legally standing, the police are free to search your home.
- Connection with Arrest: If you are arrested in your home by a police officer, the police are free to search your home.
- Consent: If you tell a police officer it is okay for him or her to come into your home, you have consented to a search and the police are free to search your home.
What If Someone Else in My House Consents to a Search?
In a recent Supreme Court case, if you are sharing your home with another person and you disagree as to whether the police can come in when they come knocking, then the police are not free to search your home if:
- You are physically present within the house and near the door, and
- You clearly tell the police that you refuse to let them in, even though the other occupant of the house might consent.
Do I Need an Attorney?
If you believe that your home has been illegally searched by the police, it is highly recommended for you to contact a criminal defense attorney because they will be able to properly advise you of and protect your rights.