Unfortunately, the answer is, it depends. Generally speaking, police officers are required to obtain a warrant from a neutral magistrate before conducting a search or seizure. Evidence obtained in violation of this general rule is excluded at trial by a motion to suppress. There are, of course, exceptions that you should be aware of to avoid unnecessary risk. This blog provides a brief explanation of the warrant requirement, looks at the exceptions, and most importantly, illustrates the importance of good trial counsel.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures” by prohibiting “as a general rule, searches and seizures conducted without a warrant supported by probable cause.”1 In short, this means that police officers cannot randomly show up to your property and demand to search it without first obtaining a warrant. To enforce this rule, evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless search and/or seizure is generally not admissible at trial against the person being charged with a crime. For example, if the police searched your home without a warrant and your consent, and found evidence of a crime, that evidence could not be used against you to convict you of a crime.
Again, as mentioned above, there are exceptions, and sometimes, evidence obtained as a result of an unlawful search and/or seizure could be used against you. However, if an exception does not apply, that evidence unlawfully obtained cannot be used against you at trial. A suppression hearing, it is the State’s burden to prove that one of these exceptions to the warrant requirement apply.
The main exceptions to the warrant requirement are as follows: exigent circumstances; search incident to arrest; consent; automobiles; plain view; and stop and frisk. Exigent circumstances are basically nothing more than emergency situations. If there is some immediate danger, a police officer may not have time to obtain a warrant. If exigent circumstances exist, an exception to the warrant requirement may apply. Search incident to arrest means if you are lawfully arrested and the officer does not need to obtain a warrant to search your persons, for example. Consent is an exception in that the Fourth Amendment and is a personal right if you choose to waive it, there is no violation of the warrant requirement. Officers are allowed to conduct some limited searches of your car if you are lawfully pulled over but be aware, there are many intricate rules with the automobile exception. Officers do not need a warrant if they openly view evidence of a crime or contraband, or the evidence is in “plain view.” Finally, the stop and frisk exception is a limited exception to the warrant requirement. Basically, if an officer has reasonable suspicion, they may stop you and conduct a quick “frisk” of your persons.
The warrant requirement, and the exceptions to it, is very technical and complex. If you find yourself in trouble and there is an issue with the legality of the evidence, you need skilled defense counsel to protect your rights. This blog is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle the full spectrum of criminal cases throughout Indiana. This blog is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.