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When Do The Police Not Need A Search Warrant?

The Fourth Amendment bans warrantless searches and seizures, unless an exception applies. In this instance, the exceptions may very well have swallowed the rule. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly wrestled with warrantless searches over the years. In some decisions, it seems as if the Fourth Amendment has almost been completely eviscerated. But, then the pendulum swings the other way, and another decision comes along, and the process repeats. 

Warrantless searches 

Despite this fluidity, there are several exceptions that are consistently recognized by most state and federal courts, including: 

  • Highly regulated industries: The Supreme Court has ruled that there are certain industries, such as food services and strip mining, in which the authorities may conduct reasonable, warrantless searches, because the need for public safety outweighs the privacy interest of the defendant. The courts authorize such things as random drug tests for air traffic controllers using that same logic.
  • Automobile: If a peace officer has a justifiable reason for searching a car or truck, the courts usually uphold the search due to the risk that the defendant may simply drive away while the officer is trying to get a warrant.
  • Motor vehicle checkpoints: The law is still evolving on this issue, but it is clear that the police may not simply stop a vehicle for no reason whatsoever, unless the stop is pursuant to some sort of neutral and articulable plan — stopping every fifth car, for example.
  • Plain view: The courts have essentially said that it would be rather silly to require a peace officer to obtain a warrant to seize contraband that is in the officer’s plain view. 

Every warrantless search is judged separately on a case-by-case basis, and a Greensboro criminal defense attorney can sometimes successfully suppress seized evidence, even if it appears that an exception may apply. 

Contact our office for a free consultation with an attorney who is passionate about defending your Constitutional rights.

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