If you’re facing charges because of incriminating evidence, it’s important to evaluate whether the evidence was gathered properly. Many criminal charges are based on evidence that was gathered unlawfully.
Perhaps the most common way that evidence is gathered unlawfully is through searching without a warrant. If police officers find evidence without a search warrant, it’s up to the state to prove that they had a valid reason to do so.
When is a Warrantless Search Allowed?
According to FindLaw, the circumstances under which a warrantless search, seizure, or arrest is deemed reasonable and lawful generally fall within seven categories.
- Felony Arrest in a Public Place
Warrants aren’t required for a felony arrest in a public place, as long as the officer had probable cause that the suspect committed the crime. Felony arrests in places not open to the public generally do require a warrant, unless the officer is in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing felon.
- Searches Directly Related to a Lawful Arrest
According to FindLaw, no warrant is required for searches related to a lawful arrest. If a police officer has made a lawful arrest, with or without a warrant, the Fourth Amendment permits the officer to conduct a search of the suspect’s person, clothing, and all of the areas within the suspect’s immediate reach. This kind of warrantless search is justified on grounds that it allows police officers to protect themselves from hidden weapons that might suddenly be wielded against them. Accordingly, officers are only permitted to seize items from the area in the immediate control of the arrestee.
- Traffic Stops for Reasonable Suspicion
Cars can be stopped if an officer possesses a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the motorist has violated a traffic law, according to the United States Courts. Once the vehicle pulls over, the Fourth Amendment permits the police to search the vehicle’s interior, including the glove compartment. However, the trunk cannot be searched unless the officer has probable cause to believe that it contains contraband or instrumentalities of criminal activity. But similar to a search incident to arrest, once a vehicle has been lawfully impounded, its contents may be inventoried without a warrant, including the contents of the trunk.
- Suspects of Ongoing Criminal Activity
An officer who reasonably believes that criminal activity may be happening in a public place is authorized to stop any person who is a suspected participant. Police may only search the suspect’s outer clothing for weapons that may be used against the officer. The officer may also ask for identification, but the suspect is under no obligation to produce it. However, a suspect’s refusal to identify himself together with surrounding events may create probable cause to arrest. This kind of warrantless search is designed to protect officers from hidden weapons. But items that do not feel like weapons cannot be seized during this kind of warrantless search.
- Exigent Circumstances
Warrantless searches, seizures, and arrests may be justified by “exigent” circumstances. To determine whether exigent circumstances justified police conduct, the prosecution must prove that the warrantless search was conducted due to an emergency situation.
- Certain Roadside Checkpoints
Brief, warrantless searches and seizures at fixed roadside checkpoints aimed at intercepting illegal aliens and drunk drivers are sometimes lawful. However, when the primary purpose of a checkpoint is simply to detect ordinary criminal activity, it violates the Fourth Amendment.
- Reasonable Searches and Good Faith
Searches, seizures, and arrests made without a valid warrant may be justified if the officer was proceeding in “good faith.” This exception to the warrant requirement was created so as not to punish honest police officers who have done nothing wrong while acting in accordance with potentially lawful conduct.
Keep in mind that while these seven situations generally do not require a warrant for search, there are exceptions depending on the situation and errors made by the police.
If you are facing criminal charges, it’s time for an experienced criminal defense attorney to evaluate the method that police used to search you or your property for evidence that the prosecution is threatening to use against you.
When jail time, heavy fines, and all the collateral consequences of a criminal record are at stake, you need the criminal defense lawyers at the Tijerina Law Firm! We can review the facts of your case and the evidence collected, and use our experience and legal knowledge to fight to have your charges dropped and evidence suppressed. Before pleading guilty in McAllen, Texas, take advantage of your rights and let a criminal defense attorney review your case. Call (956) 261-5609 or contact us online today!
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