Five Most Common Search Warrant Exceptions
Almost immediately after the Constitution took effect, the Founders added the Bill of Rights, including the Fourth Amendment, to this document. This provision forbids unreasonable warrantless searches and seizures. “Unreasonable” has a specific meaning in this context. Unless a narrow search warrant exception applies, any seized evidence is inadmissible in state or federal court.
Procedural defenses, like search warrant issues, are among the best tools for a Tampa criminal defense lawyer. Usually, when we make mistakes, we have an opportunity to make things right. But in this context, what’s done is done. If police officers make serious procedural mistakes, nothing can change them. Generally, the judge has no choice but to throw the case out of court.
Most criminal cases begin with traffic stops, and the plain view exception often comes up in these situations.
If officers see illegal drugs or weapons in plain view, they may seize them without a warrant. Knowledge of illegality could be an issue. For example, if an officer sees marijuana or a handgun, the defendant might have a prescription or a license.
Furthermore, plain view is just that. An officer must see the object. If a police officer sees a defendant acting like s/he’s trying to hide something immediately before a traffic stop, the officer cannot use those furtive gestures to justify a warrantless search.
Finally, officers must be legally in that place at that time. So, if the traffic stop is illegal, a subsequent plain view seizure is also illegal.
Owners, or apparent owners, may consent to property searches. An apparent owner is someone like a driver who doesn’t legally own the car.
In a criminal case, consent is a voluntary and affirmative act. If officers threaten to press additional charges if the owner doesn’t consent, that consent is involuntary. Opening a door for an officer isn’t consent. At best, this act is assent.
Technically, owners can withdraw consent. But lots of luck proving withdrawn consent in court. Owners cannot give limited consent (e.g. don’t look in the basement).
If officers stop suspects on the street, and they have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, they may pat suspects down for weapons. Reasonable suspicion, a concept that the Supreme Court has repeatedly diluted in recent years, is basically an evidence-based hunch.
These stops and searches are quite controversial, since many people associate them with racial profiling.
Search Incident to Arrest
Before 1990, this exception was at the top of the list. Officers routinely “arrested” individuals for speeding or other minor infractions, turned their vehicles upside-down during searches, and rescinded the arrest if they didn’t find anything illegal.
Nowadays, this exception doesn’t come up very often. In 1990, the Supreme Court limited searches incident to arrests to weapons pat-downs.
This exception often arises in dwelling searches. If officers reasonably believe someone might be in trouble, they can enter a building without a warrant and perform a security sweep.
A security sweep is just that. Officers cannot look into every corner or closet. They can only move through the building and ensure that everyone is safe. These searches also have limited scopes. Usually, officers cannot use this exception as an excuse to search unattached garages or tool sheds.
Reach Out to a Compassionate Hillsborough County Attorney
A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. We routinely handle matters throughout Tampa Bay.