The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. Therefore, law enforcement typically must get a warrant from a judge before searching citizens’ private property, which could be a person’s home, car, backpack, or their clothing. Nevertheless, the law officer can perform a reasonable search without a warrant.
When is it reasonable?
Reasonable searches and seizures can apply to the following circumstances:
- The individual gives the officer permission to conduct a search.
- The evidence is in plain view of the officer, such as lying on a car seat.
- After an arrest, when there are reasonable circumstances.
- If there is an emergency or the threat of imminent harm.
- When the police are in hot pursuit of a suspect.
What is hot pursuit?
Like cop shows on TV, the hot pursuit can be via vehicle or foot. If the suspect runs into their home to avoid apprehension, the officer can continue their pursuit to arrest the suspect even when it is in their own home. Typically, this rule applies to those suspected of committing a felony — the Supreme Court balked at supporting a warrantless search by officers who entered the garage of a driver in California suspected of DUI, which is a misdemeanor.
“Reasonable” is a subjective word
Interpreting the law is often a grey area, and the premise of “reasonable” is a prime example. While the officers in California may have felt they had reasonable justification, this was not the case. Criminal defense attorneys protect defendants’ rights in many ways, but helping define reasonable to a judge is one of the most effective.