Exceptions to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement

Generally speaking, the fourth amendment to the constitution protects us all from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires law enforcement to obtain warrants based on probable cause and issued by a judge. The baseline rule is that police officers must have a warrant to search your home. We speak with many clients every week who describe a particular set of facts in which officers did not obtain a warrant but nevertheless searched their home, car, or person and obtained evidence against them. In some of these cases, the evidence is excluded because the search or seizure violated the individual’s fourth amendment rights. If law enforcement searches you without a warrant you may have a defense. However, there are some exceptions to keep in mind to the warrant rule.


If you give consent to an officer to enter your home, to search your home, or to search your car, you lose the right to later argue the search was unreasonable because there was no warrant. Consent is the most common exception to the warrant rule. It is incredibly common, in our experience, for individuals to consent to searches, whether that is a search of their home or their vehicle. Many people falsely believe they should just “cooperate” with officers in regards to a search because they believe the police will go easier on them if they do. The thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to consent to any search by the police. Whether or not you are engaged in criminal activity, you are not required to consent to anything.

Plain View

Another common exception to the warrant requirement is known as the plain view doctrine. By way of example, if the police knock on your door and you open the door with a marijuana bong in your hand, the police do not need a warrant to search your home for other drug paraphernalia. In a situation like the one just described, officers would most likely be able to arrest you for possession of paraphernalia as well as enter the home because evidence of a crime was in their plain view. Likewise, if you are pulled over and an officer can see a half empty vodka bottle sitting on the passenger seat, he doesn’t need a warrant or anything further to search your car.

Exigent Circumstances

Officers do not need a warrant to enter someone’s property if exigent circumstances exist. Another example: Let’s say a policeman witnesses a man kill someone in his front yard and the man runs in his house. Does the policeman than have to get a warrant to enter the home? The answer is no because the officer has an immediate need to protect the lives of others by apprehending the suspect. Basically  you should think of this exception as an extreme emergency.


You do not have the same level of protection from searches to your vehicle. The Supreme Court has held that individuals in motor vehicles have a reduced expectation of privacy. However, the police still need probably cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before they search your car. Officer’s cannot randomly stop and search your vehicle.

Salt Lake Defense Lawyer

There are other exceptions to the warrant requirement but for more information, speak with a Salt Lake Defense Lawyer at out office today. We look forward to your call and working on your defense.

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