If you have ever watched a crime show, you probably know that police typically need a warrant to search your home. This notion is consistent with the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. Accordingly, if police plan to search your home, they usually must first obtain a warrant.
For law enforcement, the consequences of violating your rights are significant. Specifically, pursuant to the exclusionary rule, any evidence officers obtain illegally should be inadmissible in court. As such, you may be able to use police misconduct to defend against criminal charges. Still, officers do not always need a warrant to search your house.
1. Emergency situations
In certain extreme cases, officers may skip the warrant requirement. This is a narrow exception, though. Officers must reasonably believe the search is necessary to protect the public. For example, they may have information that indicates you are about to detonate a bomb. Alternatively, officers may forego a warrant if they believe you are destroying critical evidence.
2. Protective sweeps
If officers are arresting you inside your home, they may do a protective sweep to be sure you cannot reach for a weapon or otherwise harm them. Usually, this type of search must be only what is necessary to protect officers. Searching the entire house when they are arresting you in the front room is generally not legal.
3. Plain-view searches
You have no reasonable expectation of privacy in parts of your home that are visible to the public. If an officer lawfully enters your property or views it from the road, he or she may see evidence of criminal activity. In that case, seizing the evidence without a warrant can be acceptable.
Finally, you can waive the warrant requirement by consenting to a search of your home. If you invite officers into your house, they can seize evidence they see. You can, of course, limit consent to certain parts of your home while denying officers access to other areas.
Your home is your castle. Therefore, officers must usually obtain a warrant before searching your house. In some cases, though, there is no warrant requirement. By understanding when officers may enter or take evidence from your home without first obtaining a court order, you can better plan for avoiding the legal consequences that often come from a search.