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Tampa Criminal Attorney > Blog > Criminal Defense > Three Common Search Warrant Exceptions

Three Common Search Warrant Exceptions


During the Colonial period, British officials used blank warrants to search private property at will. So, the Framers added the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Almost immediately, the courts carved out some exceptions to the warrant requirement. Over the years, these exceptions have broadened to the point that officers rarely bother to obtain search warrants.

Although they are broad, the state still has the burden of proof to establish these exceptions, usually during a pretrial hearing. If prosecutors fail to convince the judge that the proffered exception applies, the court will exclude the evidence at issue. In these situations, it is much easier for a Tampa criminal attorney to successfully resolve the case.


Owners or apparent owners may give consent to property searches. That property could be a vehicle, a house, a backpack, or a pocket. An “apparent owner” is a person like a vehicle driver who does not own the car.

Consent must be voluntary. Frequently, officers ask owners to consent and threaten to obtain warrants if they refuse. Arguably, these threats make the consent involuntary. As a side note, this “threat” is usually a bluff. If officers had probable cause to get a warrant, they probably would not have asked for consent in the first place.

Consent is always unlimited. Owners cannot allow officers to search the house but not look in the closet. Also, consent is an affirmative act. Opening the door for officers is, at best, assent as opposed to consent. Finally, the scope of consent is limited. A homeowner can generally not consent to the search of a roommate’s bedroom.

Plain View

Assuming officers are lawfully in a certain place, they can seize any drugs, weapons, or other contraband they see in plain view.

So, an illegal stop is often the best response to plain view seizures. Generally, officers must have reasonable suspicion to detain motorists or otherwise stop people on the street. “Reasonable suspicion” is basically an evidence-based hunch that criminal activity is afoot.

Partial plain view seizures, such as a pistol with the grip protruding from underneath the seat, are in a grey area.

Exigent Circumstances

This exception is also known as the emergency exception. It’s usually associated with residential searches, but it could be used in other contexts as well. Essentially, if officers believe someone is in trouble, they can sweep through the building without a warrant to ensure everyone is okay. While inside, they may seize any contraband they see in plain view.

Disturbance calls are the classic example. If neighbors report strange or loud noises, officers can usually enter the subject dwelling without a warrant.

These security sweeps are limited. Officers cannot look inside every closet or cabinet. They certainly cannot open locked containers, like a safe. Additionally, the scope is limited as well. Officers usually do not have permission to search a detached garage or tool shed.

Contact an Experienced Attorney

Officers do not always need search warrants to seize evidence. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. We routinely handle matters in Hillsborough County and nearby jurisdictions.

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