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Can police search without a warrant?

Most New Yorkers are aware that police cannot search homes or persons without a warrant. However, you may be surprised to learn that a search warrant is not always required.

If a police officer asks to search your property, how do you know if you have a right to privacy or if you must allow access?

Certain circumstances overrule the need for a warrant

While the Constitution's Fourth Amendment offers protection from unreasonable search and seizure, some situations do not require a warrant, including:

  • Express consent: Officers may search you or your property if you consent to the search.
  • Hot pursuit: If an officer is in hot pursuit of a suspect, or fear that they are in danger, they may enter private property and seize evidence of illegal activity.
  • Following arrest: If you are legally arrested, the officer may search you and your surrounding property.
  • Plain sight: If an illegal item is in plain sight, the officer may seize the item.
  • Expectation of privacy: If the individual should not have an expectation of privacy, the property may be searched. This extends to items such as garbage.

Searching a vehicle may have more leeway

Due to their mobility, the law offers officers more leeway searching vehicles. This ensures that a suspect cannot drive away and destroy suspected evidence.

Items clearly visible within the car can be seized without a warrant, and the officer may be able to search the glove box as well. A car's truck is usually afforded more protection than the rest of the vehicle.

Warrants do have limits

If an officer presents a search warrant, realize that there are limits to what they may search. They may only search the person or property specifically named in the warrant. Additionally, they must search for the items specified in the warrant. If the police illegally obtain evidence against a suspect, it is generally not admissible in court.

However, certain circumstances may allow an officer to extend the scope of their warrant. This area of law can be tricky, and the legality of a search and seizure may be debated in court. If you believe your rights have been breached, a defense attorney can evaluate the circumstances and determine whether the police infringed on your rights.

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