Searching someone’s residence is one of the top ways that police officers gather evidence of criminal conduct. Many times, the police officers conducting an investigation can obtain a warrant and use that to search someone’s property. Other times, they might knock on your door and try to convince you to let them into your house.
Sometimes, police officers will conduct searches without the consent of the person who lives there or a warrant signed by a judge. If you don’t give permission and they don’t have a warrant, can the evidence found when police search your home still contribute to the case against you?
Probable cause could still lead to warrantless searches
People in the United States have constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Probable cause can turn a search that seems unreasonable into an appropriate one. If a police officer smells marijuana, hears someone screaming for help or sees illegal items through a window, they could have probable cause to conduct a search even without a warrant or permission.
Probable cause doesn’t just involve something happening in a home when the police arrive. Pursuit related to an off-site criminal offense has also given rise to warrantless and non-consensual searches of people’s houses. Thankfully, the Supreme Court has restricted the ability of police officers to enter private property during a pursuit.
A recent Supreme Court ruling limits certain police activity
Whether a search is reasonable and appropriate or not is often open to interpretation. Police officers frequently err on the side of conducting the search when they think they have probable cause. They then let the courts make the decision about whether to uphold that search and allow evidence found to play a role in criminal charges.
Although the courts often support police activity, sometimes they also rule in ways that limit it. Earlier in 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that police pursuits do not always justify entering and searching someone’s property. Specifically, the Supreme Court found that if the offense leading to the pursuit is a minor offense or misdemeanor, the police may not have justification for warrantless searches and pursuits on private property. Evidence found because of such searches may not hold up in court.
Understanding the limitations on police searches can help you plan to defend yourself against potential criminal charges.