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When is it legal for police officers to search a residence?

On Behalf of | Jul 8, 2024 | Uncategorized |

Police officers help to enforce the law. They respond to calls for assistance from members of the public in distress. They investigate criminal activity to identify the person accountable. If police officers could do whatever they wanted, they could very easily violate the rights of individuals.

The Constitution and various court rulings have helped establish certain standards for police activity, particularly searches conducted as part of a broader criminal investigation. When officers want access to a private residence, the situation usually needs to fall into one of three categories for them to legally search that property.

When they have a warrant

Judges have the ability to permit a search of private property. So long as police officers have adequate evidence of criminal activity or a compelling reason to believe there could be evidence of such activity at a private property, a judge may grant them a search warrant. Those who answer the door to find officers with a warrant outside often need to check that document carefully. The lack of a judge’s signature or small mistakes, like the wrong address, could render a warrant invalid. Otherwise, property owners and residents usually have to submit to a search when police officers have a warrant.

When they have probable cause

Sometimes, police officers don’t wait to search until they go to court. Instead, they act immediately because they believe there is reason to do so. They may have smelled what seems to be a drug odor coming from the residence. Perhaps they chased someone from the scene of a crime and believe that person has entered a residence. When police officers can articulate a specific suspicion that justifies accessing and searching a property, they can do so without violating the law. Probable cause is not just an unfounded suspicion but rather a clear concern about a specific type of criminal activity.

When they obtain permission

Many police officers don’t have probable cause to suspect criminal activity and do not have any compelling information to convince a judge that they need a warrant. They instead ask to come inside and talk to someone after knocking on their front door. It is quite common for people to cooperate with the police by inviting them inside. Once police officers have permission to enter, they can use anything potentially illegal that they notice inside as justification to search.

In cases where police officers conducted inappropriate or illegal searches, their actions can undermine the state’s case. A defense attorney can sometimes exclude evidence obtained through an illegal search from criminal proceedings. Analyzing the origins of certain evidence could help people develop a criminal defense strategy. The successful exclusion of certain evidence from a trial could lead to the dismissal of charges or increase someone’s chances of exoneration.