Your Rights Are the Strongest Where You Live
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits police from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. This is one of our most important liberties—if not the most important. If police conduct an Illegal Search, anything that police seize is not permitted as evidence in court.
Your rights are the strongest where you live. Police generally need a warrant to search your home or apartment. The exceptions are limited. In contrast, police can usually Search Your Vehicle without a warrant if there is probable cause.
A search warrant is a court order. It is signed by a judge, and it authorizes police officers to search a specific location for specific criminal activity or evidence of a crime. When police officers want to obtain a warrant, they fill out an affidavit to the judge explaining why there is probable cause.
A Warrant is Required, But What Are the Exceptions?
Warrantless searches are not permitted anywhere you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. That is the magic phrase. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that sometimes exceptions arise that allow police to search your home without a warrant.
Consent is the most widespread warrant exception. A warrantless search is valid if the person who lives in the property freely and voluntarily allows police to search. So, if this person has been coerced or tricked into doing so, the consent is not valid.
2. Search Incident to Arrest
If you have been arrested, police may conduct a protective sweep of your home. It allows police the areas of the home immediately around you for a weapon. The rationale behind this is officer safety. If you are arrested in your car, search incident to arrest allows police to search all of your vehicle except the trunk.
3. Exigent Circumstances
Would the safety of others be threatened or evidence potentially be destroyed? If police officers reasonably believe that during the time it takes to get a search warrant, public safety would be compromised or evidence would be destroyed. For instance, police may try to use this exception in drug cases when drugs could be flushed down the toilet.
Exigent circumstances can also include situations in which police are directly pursuing a fleeing suspect. This is known as “hot pursuit,” and can allow police to enter private property without a warrant.
4. Plain View
If police have a right to be on your property (for instance, if you Consent) and see evidence of a crime, that object may be seized. Imagine that you are throwing a party and police respond to a noise violation. As the police officers approach your house, they see people cutting up cocaine in your kitchen window. At that point, police can enter your home to arrest and confiscate the evidence.
Have you been arrested and charged based on a police search of your home? We can discuss your rights. Call my office: (817) 689-7002. Come into the office for a free and confidential case evaluation. Our office is downtown: 108 Main Street, Fort Worth, TX,76102