When Can Police Search My Home Without a Warrant?

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The right of protection from unlawful search and seizure is in effect for United States citizens, but sometimes the local and federal law enforcement agencies are permitted to search a home without needing a specific warrant. It is these situations that need clarification and a better understanding for those affected.

The warrant law enforcement officers obtain usually determines what actions the police are permitted to carry out in the home of a person. If it is for an arrest, this permits them to arrest an individual when it is reasonable to believe he or she will be at the residence. If the warrant is to search the premises, the agents are able to search through the property for what they are looking for based on what is suspected such as drugs or weapons. If a specific person is suspected of being harbored that has committed a crime, this is generally stated in the document. However, the resident has the right to read the warrant to know what it means.

It is the Fourth Amendment that protects citizens in the country from searches, arrests and seizure of property that is unreasonable or that are against the Constitution. The law enforcement agency must obtain a warrant to search or even set foot in the premises unless invited in by the tenant. However, each type of warrant may subject the homeowner to different actions.

This could lead to him or her spending the night in jail or having personal property destroyed as the agency searches for a certain item. With reasonable suspicion, the police believe the item is in the home or that there is someone there that has committed a crime, and a magistrate has signed off on the action.

The Rights of the Tenant or Homeowner

Many tenants or homeowners are unaware of what rights are afforded to them, and this could lead to both confusion and incrimination. While police are able to search and seize through reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, these persons are subject to the laws and must adhere to the Fourth Amendment as well as private citizens. However, when the individual is unaware that he or she is protected from unlawful and unwarranted searches, he or she may end up either giving consent for access or letting police search without a warrant. It is in these situations that the law is broken, but many persons are unaware and have no recourse without this knowledge.

The items seized in unlawful searches are not admissible in court. But the resident may incriminate himself for herself in the process. Additionally, if the homeowner gives consent, the police are permitted to enter the home and search as if the officers had obtained a warrant. The legal order signed by a judge authorizes the searching through the residence. However, it specifically states where, what and which materials are searched for at a specific time. Outside the time or location and the officers are no longer permitted to continue searching. Anything discovered in this manner is not admissible.

When a Warrant Not Required in a Search

When there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, the law enforcement officers may perform a search without the need of a warrant. If the officers have probable cause, sometimes a search warrant is not necessary when other factors exist. When someone in a home is attempting to run away from police, a gunshot is heard by these persons or if a sudden movement catches their eyes, a search warrant is not necessary. This permits a legal search of the premises without a warrant even in situations where reasonable expectation of privacy exists. Additionally, exemptions may void the need for warrants in searches.

Consent is the voluntary and freely given permission for police to enter the home. The Plain View Doctrine is where officers are legally able to search and seize evidence if the area is in plain and clear view. When law enforcement is searching to arrest, a warrant is not needed. This is usually used to search for weapons or evidence to tie the culprit to the crime. Exigent circumstances are another exemption that could affect public safety and a loss of evidence. In these situations, police do not
necessarily need a warrant.

Protecting the Rights of the Resident

It is important to hire a lawyer when the rights of the resident have been violated. The lawyer may pursue action and assist in mitigating the damage of these situations.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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