Officers Don’t Always Need Warrants. Here are the Top Five Search Warrant Exceptions
In colonial days, British officials often invaded peoples’ homes and searched them at random. So, the Founding Fathers added the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights. This provision requires police officers to obtain specific warrants based on probable cause before they may search dwellings, vehicles, clothing, baggage, or other private property.
However, the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit all warrantless searches. It only applies to unreasonable searches. As a matter of law, a search is unreasonable unless it falls under a recognized exception.
If the search and seizure was illegal, a Port St. Lucie criminal defense attorney can ask the judge to exclude the seized drugs or other physical evidence. If that happens, the prosecution collapses, and the judge normally throws the case out of court.
Property owners, or apparent owners, can consent to property searches. These searches include dwellings, vehicles, and containers, like backpacks. An apparent owner is a person like a roommate whose name is not on the lease.
Consent is an affirmative, voluntary act. Opening a door, rolling down a window, or even inviting officers inside is probably not consent to search. At best, it is usually assent. Additionally, officers cannot coerce or threaten people into giving consent. That could include threats like “If you don’t consent, we’ll get a warrant.”
Technically, owners can revoke consent at any time. However, such revocations are difficult to prove in court.
This exception often applies in traffic stops or DUI roadblock stops. If officers see drugs or contraband in plain view, they may seize it without a warrant. That’s assuming officers were lawfully in that position in the first place (e.g. the stop was legal and the roadblock met all lawful requirements). That’s also assuming officers did not use a microscope, telescope, or other viewing aid to bring the item into plain view.
Partial plain view seizures, such as the barrel of a gun extending from under the seat, are in a grey area.
This exception often applies in dwelling searches. If officers reasonably believe someone might be in trouble, they may enter the dwelling without a warrant, look through the rooms, and seize any contraband they find in plain view. The exigent circumstances rule often applies in vehicle searches as well. For example, a car might be on the side of the road or in a position where it is impeding traffic.
Stop and Frisk
If officers have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, they may stop people on the street and pat them down for weapons. “Reasonable suspicion” means specific, articulable facts that point to criminal activity. A mere hunch is not enough.
During pat-downs, officers may seize any contraband they see, or rather feel, in plain view. These searches do not always hold up in court. Officers are often hard-pressed to explain how they felt the difference between a baggie of drugs and a baggie of any other substance.
Search Incident to Arrest
Prior to 2009, this loophole was probably the most common search warrant exception. For example, officers could “arrest” drivers for speeding and then search their cars, including the trunk and other private areas. But in Arizona v. Gant, the Supreme Court limited these searches to weapons pat-downs.
Connect with an Aggressive Lawyer
Seized contraband is only admissible in court under limited circumstances. For a free consultation with an experienced Port St. Lucie criminal defense attorney, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.