There’s a loud knock at your door. You look out the window and see two police officers on your porch. Slightly alarmed you answer the door, your heart pounding. You greet the officers and they ask you if they can come inside and look around. You might think they can’t enter without a warrant, but in certain situations they can. To understand how this is possible you should familiarize yourself with the Fourth Amendment and instances when the police can enter your home without a warrant.
The Fourth Amendment
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 is 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 It can also be withdrawn at any time.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 are 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 are 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. Let’s say you’re arrested on your front lawn for armed robbery. The police could search your home in case you attempted to get rid of a firearm that was used in the robbery.
What Should I Do If the Police Search My Home Without a Warrant?
Search and seizure law is complex because the wording of the Fourth Amendment is ambiguous and subject to a great deal of interpretation by Michigan and Federal appellate courts. For that reason, you should contact a criminal attorney with a specialty in search and seizure (important) when a warrantless search has been conducted on your home.
Sarah Tarockoff is the Paralegal at The Law Offices of Barton Morris. She earned a Paralegal Certificate from Oakland Community College in 2015 and graduated from Oakland University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a concentration in criminal justice. She completed internships at the 52-3 District Court where she aided probation officers in the Probation Department and at Bernstein & Bernstein, where she worked closely with attorneys and paralegals on various litigation-related matters.