A search warrant is typically required in conducting searches. The police must possess the warrant during the search to ensure that the search is legal and admissible in court. To obtain a warrant, the police must have legal justification for conducting the search. However, there are conditions when a search may be conducted without a warrant. These warrantless searches do not necessarily violate the Fourth Amendment. Evidence obtained through warrantless searches may also be admitted in court. The exceptions to the warrant requirement in conducting searches are as follows:
- Search following arrest
- Search on suspicion of illegal possession of drugs or weapons
- Search based on plain sight justification
- Search based on urgency and probably cause
The police do not always need a search warrant to conduct a legal and admissible search according to the Fourth Amendment.
Warrant Exception 1: Search Following Arrest
When a search is conducted immediately following an arrest, it is an exception to the warrant requirement. The main concern is safety and security of the officer, the arrested person and other people around them. The arrested person might have weapons and pose a threat to people around him.
The arresting officer can legally search the arrested person and his immediate surroundings immediately after the arrest. The officer typically searches for weapons or harmful materials. This kind of warrantless search is legal under the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the search results are admissible in court.
Warrant Exception 2: Search on Suspicion of Illegal Possession of Drugs or Weapons
When the search is made on the basis of suspicion of illegal possession of drugs or firearms, it is an exception to the warrant requirement. For example, in a traffic stop, the officer can conduct a search for illegal drugs or firearms without a search warrant under the Fourth Amendment.
Evidence collected through this kind of warrantless search is admissible in court. However, evidence not strongly linked to the initial suspicion of illegal possession of drugs or firearms is not admissible as legal evidence in court.
Warrant Exception 3: Search based on Plain Sight Justification
The plain sight justification is also an exception to the search warrant requirement. Initial evidence in plain sight can be used to justify a warrantless search. For example, if an officer sees illegal drugs on a windowsill, he may search the property. Because of the illegal drugs in plain sight, the officer can argue that more illegal drugs might be hidden in the property. Evidence collected through this warrantless search does not violate the Fourth Amendment. The evidence is admissible in court.
Warrant Exception 4: Search based on Emergency and Probable Cause
A search conducted based on emergency or probable cause is an exception to the search warrant requirement. For example, if an officer hears a loud noise, yelling, shouting, and screaming in a property, he may conduct a warrantless search on the property. The emergency and probable cause would be based on the possibility of an ongoing crime to which the officer must respond.
In this warrantless search based on probable cause or emergency, the officer may enter the house. The officer may conduct the search without the owner’s knowledge. The officer may even forcefully enter the property in such an urgent case. As in the other exceptions to the search warrant requirement, evidence collected through this kind of search does not violate the Fourth Amendment and is admissible in court.
- Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (2015). What Does the Fourth Amendment Mean?
- Glazer, D. (2012). Telephonic Approval of Search Warrant Not Violative of Fourth Amendment (United States v. Turner). St. John’s Law Review, 52(2), 12.
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- State of New Jersey (2015). Exigent Circumstances: General Considerations: Government Officials May Conduct a Warrantless Search or Seizure.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2007). 445 FW 1 – Searches and Seizures.
- U.S. Government Printing Office (1992). Fourth Amendment: Search and Seizure.