At some point in your life you may find the police at your door asking to search your home. If this is not the first time you have answered the door to the police you may already know how to handle the situation. If, however, you have never been the subject of a search by law enforcement you may not know what to do. You have likely seen enough crime shows on television to think to ask if the police have a search warrant. If they don’t have a warrant though, you need to know whether or not the police always need a warrant to search your house.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, reading as follows:
“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 describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In short, this means that the police cannot search your home without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause. Over the years, however, the courts have carved out a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement. Under the following exceptions to the warrant requirement the police may search your home without a warrant:
- Consent – by far the most commonly used, this exception applies if you consent to a search. Simply put, if you waive the warrant requirement by allowing a search without a warrant than a warrant is not needed so never consent.
- Incident to arrest – if the police are making a lawful arrest inside a home they may search the immediate area under the arrestee’s control to make sure the arrestee does not have a weapon or contraband.
- Plain view – if you open the door and the officer sees drugs, other contraband, or something else that is clearly illegal in plain view a search may be conducted based on what was in plain view.
- Hot pursuit/emergency – if the police are chasing a fugitive and he/she runs into your home, or the police hear cries of help from your home, they may search based on the search being an emergency situation.
None of the exceptions are clear cut, meaning your attorney may still be able to contest the legality of the search – even if you consented.
If your home was searched and evidence of a crime was uncovered, consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. For immediate help, contact San Diego criminal defense attorney Domenic J. Lombardo by calling (619) 232-5122 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.