Every person in this country is protected by the Fourth Amendment. This protects you against unreasonable search and seizure. No member of law enforcement can search your home, person, or vehicle just because they have a feeling you have committed a crime. Instead, they are required by law to get a warrant. That said, there are some situations in which a police officer can search without a warrant. Keep reading to learn what they are and then contact Law Office of Michael L. Fell at (949) 585-9055 for a free legal consultation.
The Plain View Exception
If a police officer is legally present in a location, and they see evidence of a crime in plain view, then they can seize any of the evidence. Whether this means they can then search the property will depend on several factors, most importantly the severity and seriousness of the crime. For example, if they find evidence that someone is using drugs, they might not be able to search without a warrant. On the other hand, if they found evidence that someone had been kidnapped and was in immediate danger, then they could act immediately.
If a person consents to have the police search their home, car, or other property, then the police do not need a warrant. This seems simple except for two things. First, the police do not always inform people of this. They might say, “We need to check your trunk, okay?” and if you say, “Okay,” this could be taken as consent, even if you did not know you had the right to refuse.
The other issue is that non-property owners can give consent. If your significant other, or someone the police had reason to believe had authority to consent to the search agrees to it, then it could be considered a legal search.
Stop and Frisk
Stop and frisk is becoming increasingly unpopular due to signs that it is unequally used on people of color. However, in some areas it is legal for a police officer to stop and frisk a person if the police believe that an individual is dangerous, or if they have a suspicion that a criminal act has been committed. They do not need a warrant to search the person.
The Vehicle Exception
If the police want to search a working vehicle and they do not have a warrant, they need more than reasonable suspicion. They need probable cause that the vehicle has evidence of a crime, fruits of a crime, or instruments that were used to commit a crime. Even if this is the case, they can only search areas in which that item could reasonably be held. For example, if you are accused of a grand theft of a television, they could not search your glove box to find it. On the other hand, if they were suspicious that you had committed a drug crime, they could.