Do the police need a search warrant to search your home? Are there exceptions to the warrant requirement? What exactly is a search warrant?

A search warrant is an order issued by the judge or magistrate that authorizes the police or other law enforcement agency to conduct a search of the location or person, and to seize any evidence of a criminal offense. With a search warrant, no consent of the owner or occupant is required, and the search may be conducted by force, if necessary. A warrantless search means the police or law enforcement officers do not have a search warrant, but they rely on exceptions to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution to execute a search.

Can a Guest or Child Give Consent For a Search?

If the owner, a tenant, a guest, a child, or someone with authority allows access to the property and consents to a search, the search has a good chance of being a valid constitutional search. A roommate can allow the police to enter our homes and common areas; an employee can allow the police to enter a business; or a friend with a key could open the door to the police. The test is whether the person giving the consent has authority from the owner to allow this search.

Protecting your property from an unwanted police search is tricky when you have another party, child, or guest present in your home. Every good attorney would advise their client to never consent to a search. When you consent, there’s a risk that the police might find something that is illegal, and there is no reward for allowing the police to search the premises.

Can I Decline a Search?

Yes. If police ask you to consent to a search, politely decline. Say you do not consent to any searches. While you cannot actively resist a police stop or search, it is important to be able to show a court that you did not voluntarily consent. Guests who are staying in the house may not have express permission from the homeowner to give consent to a search of the premises, but the guest may have implied consent to open the door and allow police to enter the home because they have a key to the house.

Roommates generally can consent to the search of common areas, such as the living room, kitchen, basement, and dining area. Areas that would be off limits to a roommate’s consent would be your bedroom and closets, which are highly private and would require a search warrant or your consent.

The best thing to do would be to educate your roommate, prepare guests, and inform any children of what they should do when any strangers, including police, come knocking.

For any questions regarding searches in your home without a warrant, contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.

The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.