When do Police Need a Search Warrant?

When do Police Need a Search Warrant?

When Do Police Need a Search Warrant?

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the People from unreasonable searches and seizures.  In Pennsylvania, an unreasonable search occurs when police violate a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”  As a general rule a search or seizure of a citizen’s home without a warrant is presumed unreasonable.  Therefore, in most situations police need a search warrant to enter your home and search for illegal activity.  In Pennsylvania there is a presumption that any search of an individual’s home without a warrant is illegal, but there are exceptions.

Exceptions to the Search Warrant Requirement

In Pennsylvania, the police do not require a warrant to search your home where there are exigent circumstances.  Exigent circumstances  may excuse a warrant when evidence the police are seeking is likely to be destroyed, or because a police officer must protect himself from danger.  Factors to be considered in determining whether exigent circumstances exist may include the seriousness of the offense, whether the suspect is reasonably believed to be armed, whether there is above and beyond clear showing of probable cause, whether there is a strong reason to believe the suspect is within the premises, and whether the suspect is likely to escape if not quickly apprehended.  The law recognizes in some cases it is not realistic for police to wait to apply for a warrant, and therefore authorizes an exception to the search warrant requirement in extreme situations.

No Search Warrant Exception for Minor Crimes

The Court has made clear that the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement is limited to serious offenses.  For example, in Commonwealth v. Roland the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Police needed a warrant to search a home for underage drinking.  Even though the evidence was likely to disappear if the police pursued a warrant, the relatively minor offense of underage drinking did not justify violating the the individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy in their home.  The court reasoned that “police bear a heavy burden when attempting to demonstrate an urgent need that might justify warrantless searches or arrests.”  Therefore, if you are being investigated for a minor crime it is more likely the police will require a warrant to enter and search your home.

Search Warrant Exceptions for More Serious Offenses

On the other hand, if you are being investigated for a serious crime the court may give the police more latitude in searching without a warrant.  In Commonwealth v. Peterson the Court found exigent circumstances where Defendant was selling cocaine from an abandoned commercial facility.  The court reasoned that defendant lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the facility because it was not a furnished home.  Additionally, if police were to obtain a warrant the evidence of drug sales would likely have been destroyed.  Therefore, the courts have found more latitude in allowing exceptions to the warrant requirement where the defendant is accused of substantial criminal conduct.

When Do Police Need a Search Warrant?
One exception to the search warrant requirement is exigent or exceptional circumstances.

Search Exceptions Where Evidence Risks Destruction

Similarly, in Commonwealth v. Grundy the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that a warrant was not required for the police to enter and detain an individual who was about to destroy a stolen car.  The court reasoned that the “hot pursuit” exception to the warrant requirement authorized police officers to enter a chop shop without a warrant and arrest an individual suspected of criminal activity.  According to the Court exigent circumstances justified the police’s warrantless entry into the garage because unless the police acted immediately, an automobile would have been destroyed and police had information that a chop shop was in the area.  Therefore, if the evidence is likely to be destroyed before police can obtain a search warrant there may be an exception to the general Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.

Motion to Suppress Illegal Search Without a Warrant

If you believe that evidence was obtained unlawfully in your case, speak with a Philadelphia Criminal Defense attorney about filing a motion to suppress under Article 1 Section 8 and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Unless an exceptions exists to the warrant requirement, any evidence obtained from an individuals home without a warrant may be subject to suppression to protect citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy.  According to the Court, “one of the prices we have to pay for the security which the Fourth Amendment bestows upon us is the risk that an occasional guilty party will escape.”  Commonwealth v. Newman, 429 Pa. 441, 448 (1968).  Therefore, if over eager police searched your hope without a warrant you may be eligible to suppress any evidence obtained illegally from use in the case against you.


Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have questions concerning the Fourth Amendment or the requirement that police have a warrant to enter your home, contact our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys for a free no obligation consultation.  Mark D. Copoulos has more then ten years experience litigating cases in the Philadelphia Municipal Court, Court of Common Pleas, and Superior Court of Pennsylvania, and points with pride many successful cases where Defendants charges were dismissed following a motion to suppress evidence under Article 1 Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution or the Fourth Amendment.  For a free consultation call our office at 267-535-9776.

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Mark D. Copoulos

Mark D. Copoulos

From 2008-2011 Mark D. Copoulos worked for the First Judicial District, the Honorable Arnold, and the Honorable Shelley-Robins as interns and/or staff....

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