Imagine you answer a knock at your front door to find law enforcement officers on your front doorstep who are there to conduct a search of your home. Unless you were expecting them, you will likely go through a range of emotions – confusion, outrage, and fear among the most common. After the initial shock of the situation wears off you will probably start thinking more clearly, at which point you should start asking questions. The most important of those questions is “Can the police search my home without a warrant?”
The U.S. Constitution is where you will find the beginning of the answer to that question. The 4th Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights, protects you from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Your 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures means that under most circumstances a law enforcement officer cannot conduct a search of your residence unless the officer has a valid search warrant. A valid search warrant is one that is based on probable cause and properly executed by a judge or magistrate. There are, however, several important exceptions to the general warrant requirement, including:
1. Consent – by far the most commonly used, this exception applies if you consent to a search. Simply put, if you waive the warrant requirement by allowing a search without a warrant than a warrant is not needed so never consent to a search of your home without first consulting with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney.
2. Incident to a valid arrest – if the police are effectuating a valid arrest inside your home they are allowed to search the area under the arrestee’s immediate control to check for weapons or contraband.
3. Plain View – this covers situations where you answer the door and the police officer can see, in plain view, a kilo of cocaine (or some other type of contraband) sitting on the kitchen table just a few feet inside the house. Always be careful what is visible when you answer your front door!
4. Hot pursuit/emergency – if the police are chasing a fugitive and he/she runs into your home, or the police hear cries of help from your home, they may search based on the search being an emergency situation.
If the police conduct a warrantless search you may be able to challenge the legality of the search. The burden is then on the State to prove that the search was justified. If it turns out that the search was conducted illegally, any evidence seized during the search will be inadmissible at trial.
If you were the target of a warrantless search and seizure that led to your arrest, contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.