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Why Can Warrants Be Used in Some Cases but Not in Others?

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A warrant is an order signed by a judge that authorizes police officers to search for a specific object or materials at a specific location and at a specific time (Godall & Hawks, 2009). The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizures of our person, home, vehicles, and anywhere else we expect privacy. Law enforcement need to convince a judge to issue and sign a warrant by displaying probable cause, or evidence to believe that crime either has been or is going to be committed (Godall & Hawks, 2009). Situations such as consent searches, plain view, incident to arrest, and trash that has been thrown out are cases when warrants are not used because there is a lack of a reasonable expectation of privacy, so the Fourth Amendment does not apply. Consent searches are when a person in control freely and voluntarily gives officers permission to search, which can be documented by a Consent To Search form. The Plain View Doctrine allows evidence that has been spotted in plain view to be seized by and officer as long as an officer has valid reason to be in sight of evidence. When officers have valid reason to arrest someone they must conduct a search of person and surroundings for weapons or contraband to protect themselves and recovery evidence. If trash is put out in public there is no more expectation of privacy, so a search of trash is deemed valid. Other instances when a warrant is not need are in exigent circumstances. Examples include when law enforcement is in hot pursuit of a felon; imminent destruction of evidence before a warrant can properly be obtained; emergency searches (someone yelling for help in a dwelling) (Saferstein, 2008). Law enforcement do not need a search warrant to search a vehicle they stop on the road or in a non-residential area if they have probable cause to believe it contains contraband or evidence of a crime. Police may search the passenger compartment, trunk, and any containers inside the vehicle capable of holding the suspected article. When a property is rented a landlord may not give permission to search a tenants premises, so a warrant must be secured( Peak, 2006).


1. Peak, C. (2006). Chapter Nine. In Policing in America: Methods, Issues, Challenges (pp. 257-286). Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall

2. Goodall, J. & Hawks, C. (2004). Crime Scene Documentation: A Realistic Approach To Investigative Crime Scenes San Clemente, CA: LawTech Custom Publishing.



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