Overstepping the Boundaries: When Can the Cops Legally Search Your Premises Unannounced?

Thanks to the huge popularity of crime show on TV, most people are aware that police officers need a search warrant before searching for an individual’s home, car, or person. In fact, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was written specifically to protect citizens from search and seizure without clear probable cause. However, the phrase “probable cause” is broad enough to leave room for quite a few exceptions. The following are circumstances in which the police can legally perform a search without a warrant.

Searching With Consent

The police can search property if a resident gives consent. However, if the residence is shared, one roommate cannot give consent on another person’s behalf. Your roommate, for example, can allow a search of the common living areas but not your personal space or belongings. Bear in mind that you don’t have to consent to a search and you can always request to see a search warrant. If you think that your property has been searched illegally, then your next step should be choosing the right lawyer to see if you have a case.

Searching When Evidence Is In Plain View

Another exception is when a police officer sees evidence of a crime or contraband inside a house or car. This is known as the plain view doctrine. For example, if an officer pulls you over for running a red light and sees some kind of contraband, like drugs or a stolen item, through the window of the car, he or she has the right to perform a search. Similarly, if an officer sees evidence of a crime being committed while he or she is standing in the doorway of a home, the officer has the right to enter and investigate.

Searching During An Arrest

When a person is being arrested for a crime, the police have the right to perform what is called a “protective sweep” of the premises. During an arrest, officers may need to find accomplices, uncover weapons that might be dangerous to officers, and prevent the destruction of evidence that could later be used in court. They also have the right to seize any evidence that is in plain view. However, officers must need to have a reasonable suspicion of present danger. In many cases, judges have ruled protective sweeps unlawful because there was no clear justification.

Searching In The Interest Of Public Safety

One more case in which police officers are allowed to enter a property and search without a warrant is when they feel that public safety is at immediate risk. For example, if officers are in pursuit of an armed suspect and see that person run into a private residence, they can follow. Similarly, if they hear a gunshot from inside a house, they can enter the home to investigate. Officers should use this exception only in truly exigent circumstances.

The bottom line is that there are some cases when the police really do have the right to perform a search without a warrant. However, you still have the right to see the police officer’s identification and to know the reason for the search, and you are never obligated to give your consent. In other words, you can’t be arrested for refusing to consent to an unreasonable search without a warrant.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.