When Is A Search Warrant Not Necessary?

When police pull a vehicle over, most Americans understand that police officers sometimes need a warrant to search for information believed to be related to criminal activity. However, when police stop a vehicle and smell marijuana, they may have the right to search the car and its occupants without a warrant.

The public may also be aware that, according to the exclusionary rule, evidence gained in an illegal search cannot be used to convict someone of a crime. However, in many circumstances the police do not need a warrant for a search, or for the evidence gained from a search, to be legal and used in court.

Exceptions To The Requirement Of A Warrant

In each of the situations below, a police officer does not need a search warrant to conduct a search.

Consent search plain view:

§ If an individual voluntarily consents (agrees to) a search, no warrant is needed. The key question in this kind of search is what counts as a voluntary agreement? In order for a consent search to be legal, the individual must be in control of the area to be searched and cannot have been pressured or tricked into agreeing to the search.

§ A police officer who spots something in plain view does not need a search warrant to seize the object. In order for a plain view search to be legal, the officer must be in a place he has the right to be in and the object he seizes must be plainly visible in this location.

Search incident to an arrest:

§ If a suspect has been legally arrested, the police may search the defendant and the area within the defendant's immediate control. In a search incident to arrest, no warrant is necessary as long as a spatial relationship exists between the defendant and the object.

Protective sweeps:

§ Following an arrest, the police may make a protective sweep search if they reasonably believe that a dangerous accomplice may be hiding in an area near where the defendant was arrested. To do so, police are allowed to walk through a residence and complete a cursory visual inspection without a warrant. If evidence of or related to a criminal activity is in plain view during the search, the evidence may be legally seized. If the vehicle has been impounded.

§ If the police stop a car based on probable cause, they can search for objects related to the reason for the stop without obtaining a warrant. During a car search, the police are also allowed to frisk the subject for weapons, even without a warrant if they have reasonable suspicion that the suspects may be involved in illegal activities.

§ If the police smell marijuana, they can search vehicle and occupants.

Exigent circumstances:

Officer stops a vehicle and determines that it was used in the commitment of a felony i.e. a bank robbery or sale of narcotics.

Get Answers To Your Criminal Defense Questions In A Free Consultation

Frank Benvenuto, P.A. Attorney At Law, offers experienced criminal defense representation to clients in Ocean City, Berlin and throughout Worcester County, Maryland. To take advantage of a free initial consultation with a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer, call us at 410-641-2999 or send us an email. After business hours, call us at 443-783-2451.