Legal Awareness: Valid Warrantless Searches

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As a general rule, searches and seizures by the police should be supported by a search warrant. This is not an absolute rule. For your vital legal awareness, here is a list of valid warrantless searches.

The general rule is that a person’s privacy is sacred. His body, house, documents, paraphernalia and any of his property cannot be searched by the police without a search warrant. A search warrant, in layman’s terms is an official document issued by a court authorizing the search upon finding of probable cause. Probable cause essentially means that there is a rational presumption or sensible suspicion that someone is guilty of a crime. However, there is always an exception to this type of warrant. Warrantless searches, on certain occasions are legal as long as it is reasonable and carried out with probable cause.

Legal Awareness: Valid Warrantless Search No. 1: Warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest

For this warrantless to be valid, 2 things should be considered: a) the “item” (evidence of the commission of an offense) to be searched must be within the arrestee’s custody or area of immediate control; and b) the examination was contemporaneous with the arrest – meaning, it was conducted at about the time of the arrest or immediately thereafter.

Legal Awareness: Valid Warrantless Search No. 2: Seizure of evidence in plain view

The elements to satisfy the Plain View Doctrine are the following: a) a prior valid intrusion based on the valid warrantless arrest in which the police are legally present in the pursuit of their official duties; b) the evidence was inadvertently discovered by the police who had the right to be where they are; c) the evidence must be immediately apparent; and d) “plain view” justified mere seizure of evidence without further investigation.

Legal Awareness: Valid Warrantless Search No. 3: Search of a moving vehicle

Because of the vehicle’s inherent mobility, this reduces the expectation of privacy, especially when it is in transit in public thoroughfares; not to mention the impracticality of applying for a search warrant while the vehicle is getting away.

Legal Awareness: Valid Warrantless Search No. 4: Consented warrantless search

For the constitutional right of privacy to be waived, the following should appear: a) the right to privacy exists; b) the person involved had knowledge – either actual or constructive – of the existence of such right; and c) the person had a categorical intention to relinquish the right.

Legal Awareness: Valid Warrantless Search No. 5: Customs search

It has been traditionally understood that customs officers or border officers may be on the look-out for incoming persons and goods to look for either goods concealed to avoid payment of duties, or other illegal materials (e.g. prohibited drugs).

Legal Awareness: Valid Warrantless Search No. 6: “Stop and frisk” Rule

“Stop and frisk” is limited in scope – it is a search of outer clothing for weapons or items of proof of the commission of an offense. This rule serves 2 interests: a) the general interest of effective crime prevention and detection, which underlies the recognition that a police officer may approach a person to investigate possible criminal behavior; and b) the more urgent interest of safety and self-preservation, which permit the police officer to take steps to assure himself that the person he is dealing with is not armed and dangerous.

May this Legal Awareness 101 help you in the future.


lucia anna
Posted on Mar 15, 2011
Rama lingam
Posted on Sep 13, 2010