Is a Search Warrant Needed?
The Fourth Amendment was enacted to protect private citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. According to the Fourth Amendment, no state or federal law enforcement officer can enter and search your home without a warrant. To obtain a search warrant, an officer must first show probable cause. He must then sign an affidavit setting forth the reasons why he believes there is probable cause for a search and present that affidavit to a judge. The judge, after weighing the totality of the circumstances, will issue a search warrant. The area of search must be specific, allowing the officer to search only within the area specified in the warrant.
However, there are many exceptions that allow an officer to search your personal property, including your home or your automobile, without first obtaining a warrant. Here are a few of those exceptions:
- Plain View Doctrine – If an officer notices evidence that was not within the purview of the warrant, but is within plain view of the officer, that evidence may be taken without a warrant.
- Upon arrest – Once an officer has placed a person under arrest, a search can be conducted without a warrant to obtain weapons or evidence. The search can include the arrestee’s person or the area within the arrestee’s immediate control.
- Exigent circumstances – If an officer feels he is compelled to take action without a warrant and there is probable cause, he may search for contraband and evidence without obtaining a warrant.
- Upon consent – If an officer receives voluntary consent from the person whose property is to be searched, and that consent is given without coercion, a warrant is not necessary.
The laws governing warrants are complicated. It is, therefore, important to seek professional legal advice when faced with the issue of search warrants.