For the most part, police officers are required to obtain a search warrant before they can enter your property to look for evidence of criminal activity. However, in certain instances, officers may bypass this process and conduct a search without a warrant. It’s important to understand the rules governing the search and seizure process, so that you know how to respond and what to expect if an officer asks you to submit to a property search.
Photo courtesy of West Midlands Police
Police can search your property without a warrant under these four circumstances:
1. Consent is given
If a person is in control of a piece of property, and they consent to a search, the search is considered valid, whether or not a warrant was issued. It’s important to note that “consent” does NOT include being coerced or tricked into allowing a search. It’s also important to know that while you do have the right to refuse a search of your property without a warrant, law enforcement officers are not required to inform you of this. In addition, a roommate can consent to a search of common areas in your home, but they cannot consent to a search of private spaces, like your bedroom. Spouses cannot consent to a search of any part of your home on your behalf.
2. Evidence is in plain view
If an officer already has the right to be on your property (for example, police were called to your property for an unrelated incident) and notices contraband or evidence of a crime that is clearly visible, that officer can legally seize the item(s) and use it as evidence in a criminal investigation.
3. Search incident to arrest
If you are being arrested in your home or your car, police officers are entitled to search your property for weapons or accomplices, in order to ensure their own safety. They are also allowed to conduct a search to prevent the destruction of evidence.
4. Exigent circumstances
In emergency situations, where waiting to obtain a warrant might endanger public safety or lead to a loss of evidence, police have the right to enter and search your property. If, for example, you have been observed driving under the influence, and you escape into your apartment, a law enforcement officer can enter the apartment to give you a breathalyzer test.
As always, it’s best to be as cooperative as possible when dealing with police, but cooperation is not consent. Be sure to obtain the officer’s identification and state clearly that you do not consent to the search. Your criminal defense lawyer can handle it from there. Remember, evidence obtained from an illegal search is inadmissible in court.
If you are facing criminal charges or believe you have been subjected to an illegal search, contact Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Brian J. Smith at (702) 380-8248 today.
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