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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

When do police officers need a search warrant?

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2024 | Criminal Law |

Interacting with police officers when they’re investigating a crime can be stressful. Learning about search warrants may help individuals to better understand and safeguard their rights if they ever find themselves in this situation.

One of the most important things to know is when police officers need a search warrant. The answer to this is that one is needed in almost every situation, with very few exceptions.

Search warrant requirements

In the United States, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. This means that, in many cases, police need a search warrant before searching the property. A search warrant is a legal document signed by a judge that allows police to search a specific location for evidence of a crime.

Police officers must show probable cause to get a search warrant. This means they have to convince a judge there’s a good reason to believe that a crime has been committed and that evidence of the crime can be found in the place they want to search.

Exceptions to the search warrant requirement

There are several important exceptions to the search warrant requirement. Police don’t need a warrant in these cases:

  • Consent: A person with authority over the area being subjected to search can provide consent for police officers to search.
  • Plain view: Police officers can seize evidence without a warrant if the evidence is in plain sight.
  • Search incident to arrest: Police officers can search a person and the immediate area when they make an arrest to stay safe and prevent the destruction of evidence.
  • Exigent circumstances: A warrantless search is possible if there’s an emergency situation when waiting for a warrant could post a risk to public safety or evidence destruction.
  • Automobiles: Because vehicles can quickly move out of the local jurisdiction, police only need probable cause to search a vehicle without a warrant.

Anyone facing criminal charges based on a search or seizure that occurred without a warrant should learn about how that reality may impact their defense. Discussing one’s matter with a legal representative may provide anyone under scrutiny with information that they may need to determine how to proceed most effectively with their defense.