When Can Police Enter My Home Or Apartment Without A Warrant?
The freedom from unreasonable searches of our homes is one of the bedrock principles of the Bill of Rights, enshrined within the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
What that means for us, in practice, is that any search or entry into a person’s home by law enforcement is presumed to be unreasonable, unless:
- The officer has a valid search warrant; or
- Some exceptions apply.
Generally speaking, Florida law enforcement officers must adhere to Florida’s laws on search and inspection warrants. Florida Statutes Sec. 933.02 provides a vast variety of grounds for issuing a search warrant. Essentially, if an officer can state under oath that they have probable cause to believe that some evidence related to a crime may be contained within the premises, they can obtain a warrant to inspect those premises. Having these procedures in place strikes a balance between the privacy rights of citizens in their homes, and the interests of justice in collecting potential evidence.
Most people would assume that if police knock on their door and ask to step inside, they’ll need a search warrant to do so. This is not always the case, and police officers may be entitled to enter property without a warrant in certain situations.
Exceptions to the Search Warrant Rule for Searches of a Home:
- Consent of the Resident. If you are the owner or tenant of a building unit, and you invite an officer to enter your home, you have just given up your right to privacy and protection from a warrantless search. If law enforcement has consent of the homeowner to enter the property, any evidence they find within could potentially be used in a criminal proceeding. See Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582 (1946). Officers are well trained to get around certain Fourth Amendment requirements by soliciting consent from suspects. Most people aren’t aware that they could be giving up important privacy rights by being courteous and allowing a police officer in without a warrant, however.
- Exigent Circumstances. Also known as the “emergency doctrine”, this court-created rule permits warrantless searches if an emergency or “exigent circumstances” exist. These circumstances must be “so compelling as to make a warrantless search objectively reasonable.” See State v. Boyd, 615 So.2d 786 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993). An example of this would be a suspected criminal fleeing a scene and entering a building while under “hot pursuit”, or throwing a weapon into a building’s window. Where there is some public safety element that an objectively reasonable officer might recognize, there can be grounds for a warrantless search of a building and its surroundings. This can be true even if a fleeing suspect was only suspected of a misdemeanor offense at first, such as a traffic violation.
- Plain View. The “Plain View” doctrine holds that potential criminal evidence sitting in plain view can be subject to search if there was no reasonable expectation of privacy to begin with. For example, a suspect growing marijuana plants in their ground floor apartment window, with the curtains pulled back, will have a hard time claiming a Constitutional violation if a police officer comes in to investigate the plants (and anything else sitting out in the apartment). Expectations of privacy and the right to require a search warrant are reduced when people expose items that an objective person might believe are associated with some type of crime.
Suppressing Evidence Obtained Through a Warrantless Search
Over the past 100 years, U.S. Courts have carved out a variety of crucial exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s search warrant requirement. Many people would be surprised to know just how many warrantless searches take place across Florida and the United States everyday, most within the permission of the law.
However, warrantless searches can often fall outside the exceptions granted by Supreme Court decisions. When an officer oversteps their bounds, they may obtain potential evidence that should be barred from trial because it was wrongfully searched for and seized. In all of these situations – whether a search appeared to be legitimate or not – an accused defendant must consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney that can analyze the circumstances. The Florida criminal defense attorneys at Joshi Law will go over every detail to make sure their client’s Fourth Amendment rights were properly protected in all cases.
Our Orlando Criminal Defense Attorneys at Joshi Law Firm, PA Know Your Fourth Amendment Rights and Know How to Protect Them
If you are facing criminal charges after a search of your home or apartment, you have a right to know whether or not that search was done within your Constitutional rights. If the search was conducted without a warrant, it must fall squarely within an exception to the Fourth Amendment rule against warrantless searches. Our Orlando criminal defense attorneys at Joshi Law Firm will carefully review your case, and the prosecution’s evidence, to determine what evidence can be used and what should be suppressed from the case.