The 411 on Your Fourth Amendment Rights: Search Warrants in N.C. Criminal Cases

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In general, this means that law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant before they can search your person, belongings, or home. Evidence uncovered during a search without a warrant is generally inadmissible in court. However, there are some situations where the police can legally conduct warrantless searches. 

Here, we discuss when the police do and do not need warrants to conduct searches, when to know if your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, and what to do if they were.

When do police need a warrant to search my home?

Unless an exception applies, police will always need a warrant before they can search your home. Judges issue search warrants based on evidence presented to them by the police. The judge will only issue a search warrant if the police can show probable cause or a reasonable belief that a crime was committed. Once a warrant is issued, the police are free to search the areas specified in the warrant (and only those areas), and any evidence found in their search can be used against a defendant in court. 

If they want to search your home, the police can do so only if they obtain a search warrant that specifically states that it covers your home as the area to be searched.

Can police ever conduct a warrantless search?

There are many reasons why police may conduct a warrantless search. Many searches are done without a warrant because of a legal exemption. These include, but are not limited to, the following common reasons:

  1. Consent: If you freely and voluntarily consent to a search of your home, the police can search without a warrant. If more than one person lives at a home, one person can generally consent to a search of the common areas but cannot consent to a search of another person’s private space.
  1. Plain View: If a police officer is lawfully at your home, they can legally search the area and seize any evidence that is in plain view or clearly visible. 
  1. Search Incident to Arrest: If you are arrested for a crime, police officers can legally search your person and the surrounding area for weapons or evidence of the crime. If you are arrested at your home for a crime, they can generally search your home for evidence. 
  1. Exigent Circumstances: If the police reasonably believe that someone would be placed in danger or evidence would be destroyed in the time it takes to request a warrant from a judge, they can perform a search without a warrant. 

How do I know if my rights may have been violated?

If the police conducted a search of your home, without a warrant, and without your consent, your Fourth Amendment rights might have been violated (unless the police can show there was a legal exemption for a warrantless search). If your home was searched, contact one of our experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorneys today to determine whether the search was legal. 

What will a criminal defense attorney do to protect my case if my home was unlawfully searched?

If a criminal defense attorney determines that your home was unlawfully searched, the evidence found may be subject to the “exclusionary rule.” This rule states that any evidence gathered during an unlawful search cannot be admitted in court. 

Attorney Jeremy Cotten will work to exclude any evidence seized from an unlawful search and fight to defend your constitutional rights. Call our office at 919-587-8544 to set up a free case review or reach out to us online.