In most cases, the police must obtain a warrant before conducting a search of a person or their property. This protection stems from the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
However, in certain circumstances, police can legally conduct a warrantless search and not violate the Fourth Amendment.
1. After obtaining consent
If a person gives their consent entirely voluntarily, the police can conduct the search without a warrant. It is important to note that the consent must not result from coercion or intimidation by the officer.
2. When evidence is in plain view
If the police officers are legally present in an area and see evidence of a crime in plain view, they can seize it without a warrant. For example, if the officer is legally in a person’s home and they drugs and paraphernalia on the kitchen table, they can seize the drugs without a warrant.
3. After a lawful arrest
Police can conduct a warrantless search incident to arrest. This means that when they lawfully place a person under arrest, the police can search the person and the area immediately surrounding them without a warrant.
4. In exigent circumstances
Exigent circumstances refer to situations where an immediate threat to public safety or imminent destruction of evidence exists. In these moments, the police can conduct a warrantless search to prevent harm or loss of evidence.
While the Fourth Amendment generally requires police to have a warrant before conducting a legal search, warrantless searches may occur in certain circumstances.