When is a Warrant Required to Search Your Home?

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“When it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the home is first among equals.”  Your right to privacy without unreasonable government intrusion is at its strongest in your home.  Police officers almost always need a warrant to search a home.  There are few exceptions to this requirement, like consent or emergency, that could lead to officers entering your home without a warrant.

To obtain a warrant, officers must present probable cause to search and a magistrate must sign off on the warrant. There are several different ways that officers can receive probable cause to request a search warrant for your home.  Some common reasons that officers make application for a warrant to search a home/apartment are:

  • Garbage: Often times law enforcement will seize garbage that is set out for pickup, search that, and if they find any paraphernalia (burned tin foil, zig-zags, needles, baggies with residue) or say seeds/stems from marijuana, that will give them adequate reason for application for warrant.
  • Informants: Another person will provide information to the police about drug or other illegal activities at your residence. Law enforcement will often use this information when applying for a warrant.
  • Personal observation: Law enforcement will often use any personal observations they have made of your residence when applying for a warrant. These would include things like: odor of marijuana, or specific things observed during surveillance of the residence.

If police have a warrant, there are still restrictions on how they may act.  Most warrants require officers to “knock and announce” their presence before entering a residence.  There are also usually restrictions on the timing of when officers may execute a search warrant.  Without good reason to do otherwise, most search warrants are executed during daylight hours.  Additionally, officers are limited to what is specifically described in a warrant.  For example, if a warrant specifically notes officers are searching for a stolen 12-foot-tall statue of George Washington, officers may not search your bathroom medicine cabinet in an attempt to find the statue.

If there is an emergency and officers enter your home, they are also not allowed to search the entire home.  Officers are generally only allowed to enter for the limited purpose of assisting with the emergency.  However, if anything that is obviously contraband is in the plain view of an officer, he or she may seize that contraband.

If you have questions about a search in your home, speak with criminal defense attorney Tatum O’Brien. Contact O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Attorneys in Fargo, North Dakota to discuss your case or call 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002.