If you are a suspect in a criminal investigation, the police will focus on gathering as much evidence as possible to secure your conviction. This may require them to interrogate potential witnesses, keep an eye on your social media activity and physically show up at your home or place of work to conduct a search.
The Fourth Amendment, however, protects you against unreasonable search and seizure. In other words, the police cannot break into your property, search and seize your property and use such evidence against you in court without a valid warrant. So what is a search warrant?
Understanding a search warrant
A search warrant is a court order that authorizes the police to search a specific property at a specific time for a particular item. To obtain a search warrant, the police must prove to the judge that they have probable cause that criminal activity is either occurring or likely to occur at a particular place. However, there are exceptions to the 4th Amendment. In other words, there are times the police can actually search and seize your property without a search warrant. Here are such instances:
When you grant them permission to search your property – if the police knock at your door and request to conduct a search, you have the right to let them in or turn them away if they do not have a warrant. If you let them in, you may be conceding to a warrantless search.
In emergency situations – Sometimes, the police can receive a tip-off that a person is in danger or that valuable evidence is about to be destroyed or taken away. In this case, they do not need a warrant to search a property.
Where there is a plain view – Police do not need a warrant to retrieve evidence that they can clearly see in plain view. However, to retrieve and use that evidence against you, they must have been at your place legally.
Protecting your rights
Yes, the police can search and seize your property without a warrant. To do so, however, the circumstances must justify a warrantless search. Find out how you can safeguard your rights while the police are on your property.