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When a Search Without a Warrant Can Become Legal


The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides U.S. citizens with a constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. If a search is conducted without a warrant and is therefore considered illegal, it is possible that any evidence found by police during the illegal search will be deemed inadmissible during trial in court.

However, under certain circumstances, the police do not need a search warrant prior to conducting a search. This means that police may be able to justify searching you, or your property, without first going through the proper legal channels and obtaining a search warrant.

Here are some of the instances in which a warrantless search can potentially become legal:

  • When you consent to the warrantless search. It is important for you to have a solid understanding of your constitutional rights before talking to law enforcement officials. Remember that the police are not on your side when talking to you and requesting consent to search you or your property. Moreover, keep in mind that you have the right to deny their request. Just be aware that police officers don’t always phrase their request in the form of a question and they may apply pressure or use intimidation tactics to get you to consent. Do not be bullied into letting the police search your premises without first getting a search warrant. And if you feel uncertain about your rights at any point, tell the police officer that you would like to speak to an attorney.


  • When the search is incident to arrest. When you are being placed under arrest by law enforcement, police are generally allowed to perform a warrantless search of you in order to ensure that you are not armed with a deadly weapon and don’t otherwise pose a threat to the arresting officers or to anyone else. If police find evidence of a crime while searching you incident to arrest, that evidence may be admissible in court.


  • When exigent circumstances exist. If the safety of the police officer or the public would be put at risk by waiting to obtain a search warrant, then law enforcement may be able to conduct a warrantless search.


  • When evidence of a crime is in “plain view” or “plain smell.” If a police officer knocks on your door and then sees illegal narcotics or an illegal firearm inside your apartment when you open the door, they may be able to conduct a warrantless search on the basis of the evidence being exposed to public view. Similarly, when a patrol officer pulls over your vehicle and then smells the odor of marijuana coming from your car, they may have legal authority to search the car without a warrant.


  • When police have probable cause to search your vehicle. If the police have facts that lead them to reasonably believe that you have committed a crime and that there is evidence of the crime in your motor vehicle, they may be able to conduct a search of the car without a warrant. The NJ Supreme Court placed very few limitations on the ability of police officers to search a suspect’s car, which means that there is a high potential for abuse by police when coming up with justifications for conducting warrantless searches.


If you were placed under arrest and charged with a crime in New Jersey, you could be subject to severe penalties. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas, Arnold & Mangan, LLC can help you fight your charges. Contact us anytime to schedule a free initial consultation about your case.

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