The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects individuals from illegal searches and seizures by government agents. Law enforcement officers, as either employees of the state or federal government, qualify as such government agents. If police search your house without a warrant, your Fourth Amendment rights may have been violated. Your first step should be this: contact a defense attorney.
When a Warrant is not Required
There are a few circumstances in which a search warrant is not required for police to perform a search of your home. If any of the following apply to your situation, you may not have a claim under the Fourth Amendment.
- You or another person at your home consented to the search: Consent can be given either by yourself or another person who lives or is present at the home during the time officers began their search. This means that roommates, spouses, and even children can consent to a search of your home. In such cases, law enforcement officers are able to search any parts of your home that the consenting individual is able to access. Since law enforcement officers may reasonably believe someone has the authority to consent to a search of your home, the search will likely be held valid even if you would have objected if given the opportunity.
- Something incriminating was in plain view of the officer: When a law enforcement officer can see evidence of a crime inside your home from the outside, they are able to search without a warrant. They must still establish probable cause, but a warrant is no longer necessary.
- You had just been arrested: The concept of ‘search incident to arrest’ allows law enforcement officers to search your home if you had just been arrested at your home. Police officers can search your person and “the area within the arrestee's immediate control, made in the interest of officer safety, the prevention of escape, and the preservation of evidence,” without having a valid search warrant signed by a judge so long as you were arrested at your residence.
- There are exigent circumstances that justify a search: In cases of emergency, officers are allowed to search your home if they possess a reasonable belief that a person could be hurt or evidence could be damaged before they could obtain a search warrant.
If none of these apply to you, however, you can pursue legal action by filing a civil suit against law enforcement for violating your Fourth Amendment rights.
Moving Forward: Actions You Can Take
If you have been arrested following law enforcement’s search of your home, you will likely benefit from the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule prevents any evidence collected by law enforcement in violation of the Fourth Amendment from being admitted into evidence at trial. Your defense attorney will utilize this rule through either a pre-trial motion to suppress evidence or an objection at trial and subsequent appeal if the objection is overruled.
Once you have addressed any criminal charges alleged against you, you can file a civil suit against the law enforcement officers or the police department as a whole for violating your Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure. The remedies available in an unconstitutional search and seizure claim include damages, depending on the injury incurred from the illegal search; declaratory relief; and injunctive relief.