The Fourth Amendment states: “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.”
Put simply, the Fourth Amendment aims to protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by government officials.
Searches without a warrant are presumed to be invalid. Although, courts have determined warrantless searches of homes may be conducted under certain exceptions which are discussed below.
When Can the Police Search My Home Without a Warrant?
The following are exceptions to a search warrant:
Police may conduct a search if consent is given voluntarily and by a person who lives in the home.
But why would an officer ask for consent when he could get a warrant, ensuring access to your home?
An officer might not have probable cause, which is essential for obtaining a warrant.
Even if there is probable cause, he may choose to ask for consent as a matter of convenience in that there are actions officers need to take to get a warrant.
If you choose to give consent you may place limitations on the search of your home.
It’s not common knowledge among civilians that consent may be restricted.
It can also be withdrawn at any time.
Law enforcement will use this ignorance to their advantage.
If given consent without limitations, police might be able to search more of your home than a warrant would have allowed them to search.
For instance, a warrant might say that the police can only search your basement.
If you were to consent to a search and didn’t limit the search to your basement, the police could search your bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, etc.
In addition to placing limitations on a search, you’re able to withdraw your consent and add new limits to the search before the search is completed.
If physical harm to someone, destruction of property, escape of a suspect, or loss of evidence is likely occur during the time it would take to obtain a search warrant, the police may enter a residence without a warrant.
For example, if police hear gun shots coming from inside your home they can enter.
Gun shots suggest that someone is in harm’s way; during time spent obtaining a warrant, serious injury or death of someone in the home could occur.
The police must reasonably believe emergency circumstances are present before searching your home.
Search Incident to Arrest
If you’re arrested the police may search your home if your home is in the “immediate surroundings” of the location of your arrest.
The reasoning behind this circumstance is that you might be able to destroy evidence or obtain a weapon during the time it would take to get a search warrant.