Can Police Search Your Home Without a Warrant?
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of the California Constitution protect California residents against unreasonable search and seizure by the government. State and federal laws generally require police officers to obtain a warrant before entering a citizen’s home. Your attorney can get evidence obtained during an illegal search excluded from a criminal case, which can lead to charges being dropped. Depending on the circumstances and the harm caused, an unlawfully-searched person might even have a civil claim against the government.
There are, however, certain circumstances under which the police can search your home without a warrant. Continue reading to learn when the police can legally enter your home, and call a seasoned Ventura criminal defense attorney if you have been arrested or charged with a crime in southern California.
The police can enter a home if the homeowner agrees to let them in. Consent is not, however, as straightforward as it may seem. Permission may be granted by anyone with control of the premises, but there are limits.
A landlord cannot typically give consent for the police to search your apartment without a warrant or your consent. A roommate can provide consent for the police to search common areas and areas they control, but not areas outside of their control (e.g., their roommate’s bedroom). A guest can give consent to search certain common areas, whereas a host cannot give permission to search a guest’s personal belongings over which they do not have control. Who has the legal authority to grant consent can become a heated issue in a dispute over excluding evidence obtained in a questionable search.
Consent, moreover, has limits: You can grant partial permission without giving consent to search every nook and cranny. For example, let’s say you invite the police into your home to generally look around, but when they approach a closet in your bedroom and try to look inside, you stop them, refuse permission, and ask them to leave. If they search the closet anyway, that might constitute an illegal search.
Imminent Danger/Exigent Circumstances
The police can enter a home to protect a person from harm or prevent serious property damage. If the police hear or see a person who is in immediate danger, or if they reasonably believe that a person will be in immediate danger if they take the time to get a warrant, then they might be able to enter the property.
Police may enter a home if they see a crime or evidence of a crime in plain view from a public area. For example, if the police walk by a residence and see the occupant taking illegal drugs through a window visible from the street, they can legally enter, arrest the suspect, and search the property.
Incident to a Lawful Arrest
The police can conduct a search of premises in connection with a lawful arrest. The search can only be done for one of two purposes: (1) to protect the safety of the arresting officers; for example, if a person is arrested on their lawn and the officers are legitimately concerned that there may be another armed person inside who poses a danger; (2) to safeguard evidence about the arrest offense that the police believe someone else may be able to destroy, such as drugs.
Like with consent searches, the search must be limited in purpose and scope in accordance with the crime. If you are arrested outside your home on assault charges, the police cannot proceed to search every drawer in your home, even if they claim they were looking for a weapon or some other danger. If they conduct a sweep for accomplices, however, they might still seize any evidence laid out in plain view that they discover during their search.
Get Help After an Arrest in Oxnard or Ventura County
If you are facing criminal charges in southern California, get knowledgeable, compassionate, and effective legal help by contacting the Ventura offices of Paul Tyler for a free consultation at 805-889-9000.