The U.S. Bill of Rights confers various privileges and entitlements to the citizenry. These include the right to privacy and enjoyment of your property. Thus, having anyone invade your property for whatever reason, even if that individual is a government employee like a police officer, can amount to a violation of your right.
As a general rule, a law enforcement officer is required to obtain a valid court warrant before they can search and seize your property per the provisions of the Fourth Amendment. However, there are instances when the police can search and seize your property without first obtaining a warrant. But, exactly when can this happen?
Justifications for a warrantless search
Basically, the police can legally search and seize your property under the following circumstances:
If there is evidence in plain view
The law permits the police to confiscate contraband or evidence of a crime that is plainly visible. For example, if, while responding to a domestic violence call, the police notice drug paraphernalia or sachets of cocaine on the kitchen table, they will not need a warrant to seize and use such evidence against you in court. Thus, besides a possible domestic violence charge, you might also face drug-related charges.
When you voluntarily grant them access to your property
If you willfully let the police enter and search your property, then any evidence they obtain therein can be used against you in court. Of course, the validity of a consensual search can be challenged if there is evidence that the police violated your rights in the process. Also, there can be problems if you are sharing the residence with other people and it’s unclear who consented to the search or if the search extended to other residents’ private spaces without their knowledge or approval.
A search warrant is a crucial component of the criminal justice system. Understanding your legal rights can help you protect yourself from unlawful search and seizure if you are the subject of a criminal investigation.