Valid Warrantless Searches

Generally speaking, a warrantless search is unconstitutional unless it falls into 1 of about 6 categories determined by the courts to be recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement. This article addresses the 6 exceptions to the warrant requirement and gives examples. If you have been searched, whether in your house, in your car, or anywhere else, and believe the officers were not justified in their actions, you should consult with a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney on our team today.

Search Incident to Arrest

If you are lawfully arrested, the police may search you and any areas in which you may obtain a weapon or destroy evidence. There are few obvious ways in which this may play out. Let’s use a common example: An individual (“Bob”) is pulled over for speeding. When the officer approaches Bob’s car he smells a strong odor of alcohol coming from inside the vehicle. The officer runs Bob through a serious of field sobriety tests, gives him a portable breath test, and arrests Bob for a DUI. Incident to Bob’s arrest, the officer can search his vehicle without a warrant. Additionally, because Bob is arrested and booked into jail, the officer can perform a search on Bob’s person.

Automobile Exception

Even if Bob was not suspected of a DUI and arrested, there may have been other reasons the police could have searched his vehicle under the automobile exception. For instance, if the officer smelled marijuana as opposed to alcohol, the officer may have probable cause to search Bob’s vehicle for “fruits, instrumentalities, or evidence” of drugs.

Plain View

Let’s say Bob is pulled over but this time the officer doesn’t smell alcohol or marijuana or anything else. However, sitting on the passenger seat next to Bob is a marijuana bong in plain sight. Under the plain view rule, the officer could search Bob’s vehicle for additional paraphernalia.


This seems like a pretty obvious one but if Bob consents to an officer searching his vehicle, there is no need for a warrant. Officers often try to obtain consent in sneaky ways. It is common for police to say something like, “if you let me search your car and I find something I won’t arrest you, but, if you don’t let me search and I have probably cause to do so anyways, and I do find something, then you are going to jail.” Police will try and scare you into consent. Don’t let these kinds of tactics fool you. The truth is if the officer can arrest you he probably is going to. If it is standard practice for your offense to receive a citation and not be booked, he will probably to that. What is most important to remember is you do not have to consent to any search.

Stop and Frisk

An officer can stop a person without probable cause if the officer has a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Example: this time Bob is walking down the street minding his own business. If an officer reasonably believes Bob is involved in some type of criminal activity, the officer can stop Bob and pat him down for weapons or contraband.

Hot Pursuit, Emergencies

Let’s say Bob is again walking down the street but this time before the officer gets to Bob, Bob shoots his neighbor in the foot and runs off. Under the hot pursuit or emergency exception, the officer can chase after Bob and when Bob runs into his house, the officer would not need a warrant to enter. The idea is that the situation created an emergency to prevent Bob destroying evidence or harming others. Under such circumstances, a warrant would not be required.

There are just a few brief examples and explanations of valid warrantless searched. For details concerning your particular case, call us today.

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