November 10, 2021 | Criminal Defense
Find yourself wondering about exigent circumstances: what they are and how they allow police to search and seize without a warrant? In this blog, Cincinnati criminal defense lawyers at Suhre & Associates explain what you should know.
Exigent circumstances were created by the Supreme Court of the United States in order to allow law enforcement to operate effectively when faced with rapidly changing situations. The exigent circumstances doctrine allows the police to enter a residence without a search warrant when speed requires it.
It may sound like this doctrine is a good thing because it lets police respond to emergencies on private property. However, it is heavily criticized by defense attorneys. This is because we have seen time and time again how police abuse exigent circumstances to conduct warrantless searches and make questionable arrests.
Don’t let Cincinnati prosecutors walk all over your constitutional rights. If you were the subject of a warrantless search and seizure, contact Suhre & Associates to fight back.
Fourth Amendment Protection from Searches & Seizures in Cincinnati, Ohio
Under normal circumstances, every person in the United States is protected by the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment creates privacy rights in your residence and on private property. These privacy rights mean law enforcement is not allowed inside without a search warrant signed by a judge.
A judge is not supposed to sign a search warrant authorizing a search unless the police show probable cause that evidence of a crime is inside the residence. Probable cause requires sufficient facts that would allow a reasonable person to conclude evidence of a crime is in the place to be searched.
The exclusionary rule exists to enforce Fourth Amendment privacy rights. If police did not have a valid warrant prior to a search, or if the warrant did not contain probable cause as required, any evidence found must be thrown out of court.
A criminal defense lawyer can file a motion arguing for evidence to be tossed out. This kind of motion is called a motion to suppress.
Exigent Circumstances as an Exception to the Warrant Requirement in Cincinnati
In certain situations, law enforcement is allowed to enter a private residence without waiting for a search warrant. These emergency circumstances that create an exception to the warrant requirement are called exigent circumstances.
There are three widely recognized exigent circumstances that allow entry without a warrant:
- Destruction of Evidence
- Emergency Aid
- Hot Pursuit
Each of the three exigent circumstances has complicated rules for when police are allowed to enter without a warrant. However, these three exigent circumstances can be summarized to give you a basic understanding of the rules.
With the first exception, cops can when they reasonably believe evidence of a crime will be destroyed if they wait for a warrant. An example would be if police have a home surrounded and they have suspected marijuana dealers inside. While waiting for a warrant, the police notice smoke billowing out of the chimney and can smell marijuana burning. The police then conclude bundles of marijuana are being thrown in the fireplace! This would likely allow the police to enter without a warrant to prevent the destruction of evidence.
Emergency aid is, in most defense lawyers’ view, the only legitimate exigent circumstance. If police have a reasonable belief that someone needs immediate assistance, they can make a warrantless entry. An example of this would be if they hear gunshots inside an apartment and believe victims may require aid.
Hot pursuit can also get officers inside a private residence without a warrant. This exception only applies if the police are right on the tail of a suspect when the suspect goes inside. Thankfully, the Supreme Court recently limited this exigent circumstance, declaring that minor misdemeanors may not justify warrantless entry into a premises.
The Plain View Doctrine as a Limitation on Exigent Circumstances
When police go inside a residence without a search warrant, they are only allowed to seize evidence that is in plain view. This is called plain view doctrine.
The plain view doctrine says that law enforcement may seize any evidence they see in plain sight while in a place they are lawfully entitled to be. For instance, suppose cops see drugs on a kitchen counter while they are inside helping someone in a medical emergency. The drugs would be in plain sight and, therefore, would be seizable.
Plain sight doctrine does not give police permission to open closet doors or drawers. It also doesn’t give cops permission to go snooping around in purses or suitcases. These private areas are not in plain view.
So, while the cops may be able to get inside and seize evidence out in the open under exigent circumstances, they are not allowed to turn your house upside down looking for evidence!
Contact the Cincinnati Criminal Defense Attorneys at Suhre & Associates, LLC For Help Today
Suhre & Associates, LLC – Cincinnati
600 Vine Street, Suite 1004
Cincinnati, OH 45202