Search and Seizure FAQ

Do the police always need a warrant to conduct a search?

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Do the police always need a warrant to conduct a search?

No. In many situations, police may legally conduct a search without first obtaining a warrant. Here are some of the main exceptions (to learn more about these exceptions, see Search Warrants: What They Are and When They're Necessary):

  • Consent searches. If the police ask your permission to search your your person, your home, your car, or other property, and you agree, the search is considered consensual, and no warrant is necessary. (The police do not have to warn you that you have a right not to consent.)
  • Searches made in connection with an arrest. When a person is placed under arrest, the police may search the person and the immediate surroundings for evidence and weapons that might be used to harm the officer.
  • Emergency exception. The police don't need a warrant if they have a reasonable fear that their safety, or that of the public, is in imminent danger.
  • The plain view doctrine. A police officer does not need to obtain a warrant to search and seize contraband that is "in plain view."

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