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Search Warrants And The Most Common Exceptions

The United States Constitution gives us all the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that the police cannot stop and search you whenever they want, nor can they enter your house and search your property anytime they wish. It’s essential to know the laws regarding search warrants, including when the police need one and when they don’t. In order to stand up for your rights, you must know your rights.

What Is A Search Warrant?

A search warrant allows law enforcement officials to search a specified location for specific items that the police believe are related to criminal activity. The United States Constitution, and most state Constitutions, forbid unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that members of law enforcement need to have a search warrant before entering your residence, place of work, or vehicle before conducting a search. In order to obtain a search warrant, law enforcement must have probable cause, and a judge or magistrate must sign it.

Additionally, a search warrant must explicitly state which items are being sought and at what property they are believed to be located. For example, a search warrant that simply states the police are searching for evidence of criminal activity is likely not sufficient.

What Is Probable Cause?

Probable cause in the context of a search warrant means the police have sufficient reason to believe that evidence of a crime or related to a crime, or an individual who allegedly committed a crime, is present at the location they wish to search.The warrant must be supported by circumstances and facts; it’s not enough for a police officer to simply have a hunch about criminal activity taking place in a specific location.

For example, law enforcement may be able to obtain a search warrant based on testimony from a confidential police informant whose past reliability has been established and/or who has firsthand knowledge of illegal activity.

Exceptions To Search Warrants

While most searches require a search warrant and the approval of a judge or a magistrate, there are several exceptions to the search warrant requirement, including but not limited to the following:

  • Consent

    If the police knock on someone’s door and ask if they can search the property, they are permitted to do so if someone legally able to give consent agrees to do so. In order for consent to be valid, it must be given freely and voluntarily. If police officers pressure or coerce someone into providing consent, the search can be challenged, and anything recovered may be inadmissible in court. The individual giving consent to search the property must be the owner or someone who lives there. However, if a police officer reasonably believes that a person has the right to give consent to search the property, this is probably sufficient.

  • Search Incident To Arrest

    Anytime someone is arrested, the police are permitted to search them without obtaining a warrant. However, if a criminal defense attorney challenges the arrest and the court finds that there was no probable cause to arrest, anything recovered as a result of the search incident to arrest should be thrown out and would be inadmissible at trial.

  • Exigent/Emergency Circumstances

    In cases of exigent or emergency circumstances, police officers may be able to search a vehicle or a property without obtaining a search warrant. For example, if there is an imminent danger to someone’s life or a threat of serious damage to property, police can enter a property and search without a warrant.

Know Your Rights

Knowing your rights regarding when the police can and cannot search you or your property is very important. If you believe a search warrant has been wrongfully issued, or you have been subjected to an unlawful search of your person or property, Attorney William S. Kroger can help. Don’t hesitate to reach out for a free, confidential consultation. Set up a meeting by calling 323-655-5700 or by messaging us today.

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