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When Can Police Conduct a Warrantless Search?

Your right to be secure in your person or property is protected by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What this means is that, generally, law enforcement officials must have a warrant before they search you, your house, your car, or any other property. If they don't have lawful permission to conduct the search, and they retrieve evidence, the objects, records, or information they obtained may be inadmissible in court.

That being said, exceptions to the warrant requirement exist.

Exceptions to Warrant Requirements in RI

Below are some circumstances in which a warrantless search is lawful:

Exigent Circumstances

This exception means that law enforcement officials can search a person or property if failing to do so immediately would lead to the destruction or removal of evidence or place the officers at risk of harm. For instance, if police are responding to a report of a drug crime and they have probable cause to believe that a person is about to destroy the controlled substance in question, exigent circumstances are present and may permit a warrantless search.

Search Incident to Arrest

If law enforcement officials have probable cause to lawfully arrest someone, they can legally conduct a warrantless search of that individual. The search is limited to the alleged offender and areas under their immediate control.

Automobile Searches

Police may conduct a warrantless search of a person's vehicle if they believe there is contraband within. The rationale for this exception is that because a person drives their car on a public road, the expectation of privacy is diminished.

Consent Given

Typically, when an officer asks an individual suspected of an offense to search their person or property, the alleged offender agrees because they want to comply with a request from an authority figure. What many people don't realize is that they have the right to deny a search. When they give permission, they allow law enforcement officials to go through their things without having a warrant to do so.

"Plain View"

If a law enforcement official is in an area they're lawfully allowed to be and they see contraband nearby, they can seize the item as evidence without a warrant. This includes when the officer is conducting a lawful pat-down of a suspect.

Border Searches

Border agents are tasked with protecting the country from the threat of harm. As such, when a person is attempting to come into the U.S. by land, sea, or air, they can be subject to a warrantless search of their person or property.

If you have been charged with a crime in Rhode Island, it's crucial to get a lawyer on your side who will thoroughly review your circumstances to determine whether or not your rights have been violated. At The Law Office of Thomas C. Thomasian, Esq., we have extensive legal experience and can provide the representation you need. Call us at (401) 312-4385 or contact us online today.