Knowing your rights during a police investigation can make a huge difference in the outcome. Always keep in mind that the general rule of thumb is that police need to have a warrant to conduct a search or make an arrest. If police don't have a warrant and want to conduct a search, then their search would have to fall within one of the following categories for it to be legal.
An exigent circumstance is a situation where the police have to take immediate action to prevent evidence from being moved, hidden, or destroyed, or where they are responding to an emergency. A classic example of an exigent circumstance is when police are in a foot chase with someone they suspect of having committed a crime, and the suspect runs into a house. Ordinarily, police would have to secure a warrant to enter the house and make an arrest. However, because the police are in hot pursuit and the suspect would get away if they stopped for a warrant, they're allowed to rush into the house to continue the chase.
Similar to the exigent circumstances exception, police can search vehicles without a warrant because cars can be moved easily, making any evidence in them difficult to trace. There are nuances to this exception but, in general, police do not need a warrant to search your vehicle.
Search Incident to Arrest
Whenever police make an arrest, they're allowed to search that person for evidence and for weapons. Police can also search the area immediately surrounding that person, as well, though how far this extends is a question that is still being debated in the legal community.
If a police officer is in a place where they lawfully have a right to be – like standing on the sidewalk or some other public place – and they can see evidence of what is clearly a crime, then they don't need a warrant to conduct a search. A good example is if an illegal marijuana plant is hanging in a window, and a police officer sees it while driving his or her cruiser down the street.
An extension of the “plain view” exception, police are allowed to search anywhere that you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy, even when this is on your own land. For example, if you own a parking lot, police do not need a warrant to search it for evidence – they can just walk right in.
Lastly, if police have your consent to conduct a search then they can do it, no matter how illegal or improper it is. Sadly, most people fail to exercise their rights and oftentimes will waive those constitutional protections, allowing the police to conduct consensual a search.
Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly
These exceptions to the warrant requirement are supposed to be narrowly read by courts, meaning that if there's a doubt that a particular search falls within one of them, then that search will be deemed illegal and the fruits of the search thrown out through the exclusionary rule. However, police stretch these exceptions all the time in their attempts to find evidence of a crime, making it crucially important that people understand their rights before the search has already happened.
If you're facing criminal charges in the state of Maine, contact the law office of William T. Bly online or at (207) 571-8146.