What are Exceptions to a Warrantless Search?
In most cases, police officers need a warrant or probable cause to believe that a crime took place to search your property. There are certain exceptions where police can conduct a search without obtaining a warrant or probable cause first.
The most common exception is when you consent to the search. If the police request to search your car, home or anything else and you respond affirmatively, they then have the legal right to conduct the search, confiscate anything illegal that they find, and use it as evidence to arrest and then prosecute you. This is why it’s critical that you never provide the police consent to conduct a search. The best way to respond if the police make this request is to say “I don’t consent to any searches.” Remember that the Fourth Amendment gives you the right to do this.
If you provide your consent and then choose to withdraw it after the police have entered your home but before they’ve found anything illegal, they do need to honor that request, and nothing that they found if they continued their search couldn’t be used against you in court. It’s far better to simply refuse to provide consent, though, to avoid any potential issues.
The police often obtain consent simply because people don’t realize that they have the right to refuse, and because the police aren’t required to tell them that. An officer may also phrase the request in a misleading way, or try to convince you that you that it will be better for you if you consent to a search. For example, if an officer has pulled you over, they may say “You don’t mind if I take a look around your car, right?” This type of phrasing works very well for the officer – if you answer “yes,” they can assume you’re saying that yes, they can look around your car. Answer “no” and they can assume you’re saying that no, you don’t mind them looking around your car. That’s why it’s always better to say that you don’t give consent for searches, as it’s clear and direct.
For consent to be valid, it must be provided by an adult who the police can reasonably believe has the right to provide that consent. If a suspect’s girlfriend answers the door and gives police consent to search the home, the search will be considered legal even if it turns out that the girlfriend doesn’t live there, because it was reasonably for the police to believe that she lived there. On the other hand, if the suspect’s 8-year-old son answers the door and lets the police come in, the search will not be considered legal, because the child obviously doesn’t own the home and isn’t old enough to provide consent.
Another exception to the warrant requirement is the plain view exception. If the officer sees something illegal, even if it’s on private property, they can use this exception to make an arrest. For example, if the police see a bag of drugs in someone’s open garage, they can legally enter the garage, confiscate the drugs and arrest the home owner. However, this exception wouldn’t apply if the officer was trespassing on that person’s property before seeing the illegal activity. If an officer illegally entered a person’s backyard and saw a bag of drugs, they wouldn’t be able to use the plain view exception.
If there are exigent circumstances, then an officer can enter someone’s home without a warrant or consent. Exigent circumstances refer to emergency situations, such as those where there’s the risk of harm to a person or there’s probable cause that evidence could be destroyed. If police respond to reports of domestic violence at a home, they may be able to enter the house without a warrant through an emergency exception, since there’s the possibility that someone will be harmed if they don’t. Or, if the police are pursuing a suspect who runs into a house, they can enter the house without a warrant to arrest the suspect.
What To Do First If Federal Agents Come to Your Home With a Search Warrant
The sight of federal agents at your home might come as a surprise to most people. However, they generally don’t stop by people’s homes just to talk about the weather. Therefore, it is likely that the government is interested in learning more about various activities that you have engaged in. In some cases, they will come with a warrant to search your home, seize property or both. What should you do if presented with such a warrant?
Confirm the Warrant Is Correct
You generally have the right to see the warrant that is used to search your home or other property. If it is not signed, it is typically not valid. Therefore, it may be possible to deny a federal agent the right to enter your home. In the event that he or she enters anyway, any evidence could be considered illegally obtained and thrown out at trial. It is important to note that you should always be polite and courteous when speaking with a federal agent. This can help to keep you and your family safe during an encounter.
What If the Warrant Is Valid?
If the federal government has a valid search warrant, you have no choice but to comply with it. During the search, you may be confined to a certain part of your home. However, as soon as the search is over, you should make a phone call to your attorney. He or she will be able to schedule a meeting and talk about how it could impact your case. Legal counsel may also be able to find out more about the warrant by speaking with the judge or prosecutor in your case.
You Aren’t Necessarily Guilty of a Crime
It is important to understand that a search warrant isn’t an implication of guilt in a given matter. It is simply a tool that law enforcement can use to obtain evidence when it has reason to believe a crime has occurred. Of course, there is a chance that nothing is found that links you to a crime. Furthermore, it is possible that the government was lied to or misled by an informant prior to asking for the warrant.
Don’t Say Anything During the Search
You are under no obligation to say anything to any agent who comes to your home. Instead, you should sit quietly and patiently until the government has found what it is looking for. Generally speaking, you are under no obligation to cooperate with the search or help agents find anything that they are looking for. Talking to agents may result in saying something that could provide probable cause to expand the scope of the original warrant.
Anything In Plain View Can Be Fair Game
If an agent finds drugs, guns or other contraband in plain view, he or she can usually seize it. This may be true even if these items are not related to the charge or charges that the government is originally pursuing. For example, if agents were looking for a laptop, they could still take an unregistered gun or ammunition that belonged to it.
Let Your Attorney Protect Your Interests
An attorney may be able to help get evidence suppressed or put into context why it was found. For instance, it may be possible to prove that a gun was legally registered in your name or that drugs found in your home belonged to someone else. Your attorney may also be able to convince a judge or jury that any statements made to agents were made under duress. That may result in those statements being ruled inadmissible at trial.
While you may not expect the federal government to visit your home, it is important that you know what to do when its agents arrive. Ideally, you will stay calm, say nothing and let your attorney deal with any fallout that comes from a search.