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Exceptions to the search warrant requirement

A previous blog post discussed the scope of a valid search warrant. The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally, law enforcement must obtain permission from the court to search a person or their property. However, there are some exceptions to this requirement, including consent, emergency, searches incident to arrest and plain view.

If police ask for permission to search a person or their premises and they are given consent, they do not need a warrant to conduct their search. Anyone who has control over an area of the property may consent to a search of that area only. Thus, a roommate may give consent to a search of the shared common areas in the apartment, but may not consent to a search of the other roommate's bedroom. Landlords may also only give permission for law enforcement to search common areas of the building or complex and may not consent to searches of tenants' property.

Emergency, or hot pursuit, situations will eliminate the need for police to obtain a search warrant. If police are chasing a suspect who enters a private property, they may enter the property without first obtaining a warrant. Police may also enter the property without a warrant to protect someone inside or to prevent the movement, alteration or destruction of evidence.

If a suspect is arrested and charged with a crime, police may conduct a search incident to arrest without a warrant. The purpose of a search incident to arrest is to uncover any weapons that may put officers or others at risk. Officers conducting a search incident to arrest may only search the person arrested and their immediate surroundings. If an officer sees any evidence that is in plain view, that evidence may also be seized without a warrant. Criminal defendants who believe that evidence in their case was wrongfully obtained should seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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