Warrantless Searches

Criminal Procedure.  The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” A warrantless search of one’s home, papers or affects, made without consent or justification, constitutes a violation of the constitutional guarantee.  It is presumed to be unlawful, and the burden of justifying a warrantless search falls upon the prosecution.

The search of a home conducted without a warrant is per se unreasonable unless it can be shown that the search falls within one of the carefully defined exceptions to the Fourth Amendment.

A warrantless entry into a residence by police is presumptively unreasonable and is unconstitutional absent exigent circumstances. Police are permitted to enter a home without a warrant only if, based upon the totality of the circumstances facing them, the situation is “exigent,” that is the need to protect or preserve life or avoid serious bodily injury is present, justifying what would otherwise be an illegal entry.  The government bears the burden of showing the existence of exigent circumstances by particularized evidence.

Exigent circumstances are defined as “an emergency situation requiring swift action to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, or to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or destruction of evidence.” People v. Williams, 48 Cal. 3d 1112, 1138 (1989).  Examples include: (1) the immediate or continuous pursuit of a felon fleeing the scene of a crime; (2) the prevention of the imminent destruction of evidence; (3) the need to apprehend a dangerous suspect who is threatening police and/or the public safety; and (4) the need to render immediate aid to injured people.

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