When Can A Warrantless Search Happen?

A warrantless search is not always unconstitutional. Law enforcement sometimes has the justification to search suspects because of surrounding events, which may make it impossible for the police to obtain a warrant in time. As a citizen, you should be educated on these exceptions to the warrant requirement. And just because an exception could exist, it does not necessarily mean that the search or seizure was lawful. Here are some of the most cited exceptions to the warrant requirement:

  1. Consent of the individual. When a suspect gives voluntary and intelligent consent to be searched, the suspect waives his or her rights to challenge the search on the basis that there was no warrant.
  2. Exigent circumstances. When there is an emergency, law enforcement does not need a warrant to conduct a search. Some of the most common emergencies that justify this exception are when a suspect is attempting to destroy evidence or there is a threat to other people's safety.
  3. Automobile exception. When there is probable cause that a crime has been or will be committed and the suspect is driving a motor vehicle, the police may search the vehicle or any container in it.
  4. Search incident to arrest. When a suspect is lawfully arrested, the apprehending officers may also search the area in the immediate control of the suspect for weapons or contraband without a warrant. A search based upon this exception is limited in time and scope.
  5. Border search/airports. Law enforcement officers on the borders of the United States or in sensitive areas of national security do not need a warrant to conduct a search. The strong interest of protecting the United States relaxes the Fourth Amendment constitutional standards.
  6. Regulatory inspections. California conducts administrative searches for the safety and health of residents, which are not for the purpose of investigating a specific crime. Building codes, alcohol consumption and automobile repairs are just some of the industries that are subject to general regulatory searches. Although a warrant is not needed for these types of searches, there are notice requirements and other limitations upon the authority conducting the search.
  7. The status of a person. Parolees and sometimes individuals on probation are subject to searches without a warrant at any time.
  8. Private parties. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures from the government. When a private party conducts a search that leads to a criminal charge for another, the defendant will be unable to challenge the warrant requirement.

Again, it is not enough for the prosecution to state that an exception to the warrant requirement existed. There must be a valid rationale. If you believe that you have been charged with a crime after an unlawful search or seizure, do not hesitate to contact my law firm, the Law Offices of C.W. Blaylock. I am Chris W. Blaylock, a criminal defense attorney in Santa Monica who has represented clients in both Los Angeles and Santa Monica.