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When Is It Okay for the Police to Conduct a Search Without a Warrant?


Anyone who has ever watched a television legal drama probably knows about the Fourth Amendment. It is the part of the United States Constitution that requires police to obtain a warrant before searching a person or their property. Any evidence obtained by police in violation of the Fourth Amendment must be suppressed or excluded from any subsequent trial. This is known as the “exclusionary rule.”

But like many rules, there are exceptions. Indeed, there are a number of judicially created exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule. Here is a brief overview of some of the more common exceptions and how they can affect your rights in a criminal case.

You Consent to the Search

Let’s start with the simplest exception. If you give the police consent to search, then a warrant is unnecessary. Of course, the consent must be given freely and voluntarily. An officer cannot threaten you with violence if you do not give consent.

The Item Is in Plain View

A police officer is also allowed to seize any item that is in “plain view” even without a warrant. This usually comes up in the context of traffic stops. Assuming the officer had a valid reason to pull you over in the first place, anything that the officer can see in plain view can be fair game for a warrantless seizure. In other words, if there is a bag containing illegal drugs on the front seat next to you, that would most likely be considered an item in plain view.

The Police Suspect There Is Contraband in Your Vehicle

Even when contraband is not in plain view, if you are detained while driving a car the policy may still be able to conduct a warrantless search under the so-called automobile exception. This exception holds that when a car is “readily mobile” and the police have “probable cause” to believe there is contraband inside the vehicle, then an immediate search may be justified to prevent the removal of evidence.

You Are Searched Following a Lawful Arrest

If you are placed under arrest for a crime–as opposed to merely detained for questioning–the police can search you and any property under your immediate control without a warrant. Such warrantless searches are ostensibly permitted to ensure the safety of the officers–i.e., they need to search you for weapons. At the same time, there is often a gray area around what qualifies as the area within your “immediate control.”

You Are on Probation of Parole

When a person is sentenced to a term of probation or on parole following a prison sentence, law enforcement may typically conduct warrantless searches of the defendant or their property to ensure compliance with the terms of their release. These are considered “administrative” searches and thus not subject to the normal Fourth Amendment considerations.

Contact Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer Jose Baez Today

Exclusion of evidence due to an unconstitutional search is one of the most commonly litigated issues in Florida criminal cases. A qualified Orlando criminal attorney can review your case and help you decide if you have a viable Fourth Amendment challenge. Contact the Baez Law Firm today if you have been charged with a crime and need immediate representation.

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