Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement

search warrantThe Constitution of the United States grants several unalienable rights to each and every American citizen. Among those rights is the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the protection that no warrants for a search will be issued without probable cause. However, there are some important exceptions to the warrant requirement of which many American citizens are unaware.

 There are six exceptions to the warrant requirement as defined by the Supreme Court of the United States. They include: Search Incident to Arrest, Automobile Exception, Exigency, Consent, Plain View, and Stop & Frisk (also known as a Terry Stop).

 Search Incident to Arrest

The first exception to the warrant requirement is the search incident to arrest. A search incident to a lawful arrest does not require the issuance of a warrant. Thus, if an individual is lawfully arrested by a law enforcement official for a crime, that individual is subject to a search of her person.

However, in 2009, the Supreme Court in Arizona v. Gant, changed the requirements of the exception by requiring that in order to have a valid search, the law enforcement official must demonstrate an “actual and continuing threat” to their safety posed by the arrestee, or must preserve evidence related to the crime for which the arrestee was arrested.

 Automobile Exception

 The automobile exception, also known as the Carroll Doctrine, was created in 1925 during the times of prohibition. The Supreme Court carved out this exception specifically to help prevent bootleggers from distributing alcohol to different speakeasies, and the rule has never been changed since that time. Essentially, when a person is pulled over in their vehicle for a traffic stop and that officer has suspicions amounting to probable cause that there is illegal contraband in the vehicle, he is allowed to search that vehicle without a warrant. The argument in support of this rule stems from the mobility of a vehicle, and its ability to change jurisdictions quickly.


 This exception stems from emergency situations, and is also known as the “hot pursuit” exception. This exception arises when obtaining a warrant is impracticable or dangerous to the officer, and allows for the officer to search a person, his vehicle, his home, or his effects. However, the situation must be one in which the officer believes that others are subject to imminent danger, evidence faces imminent destruction, or a suspect will escape prior to an arrest being made.


The fourth exception to the warrant requirement is consent. In order to consent to a search, there are requirements that must be followed. For example, the scope of consent cannot be exceeded, allowing evidence found outside the scope of consent to be suppressed. Consent must be voluntarily given by an individual, however many individuals are unaware that they are allowed to refuse to give consent to a search, meaning a person has the right to say no when an officer asks to search a person’s home or effects. In addition, individuals have the right to revoke consent at any time, except in very limited cases. Further, prosecutors in a trial using evidence found from a consensual search must show the court that consent was voluntarily given, and that the person who consented to the search was not coerced.

 Consent is made more difficult by rulings of the Supreme Court. While it would seem that only the owner of the property would be able to give valid consent to a search, the Supreme Court has ruled that if consent is given by a person that law enforcement reasonably believes has authority to give such search, the search is valid, even if said person had no such authority.

 Plain View

 When an officer is lawfully in a structure, or has pulled a vehicle over for a traffic violation, anything that is in plain view to that officer is subject to a search. This means that if a person allows a police officer into their house for an entirely separate matter, and they have incriminating evidence sitting out on their table, the officer is authorized to take such evidence into his possession without infringing upon the constitutional rights of that person.

 Stop and Frisk

 The sixth and final exception to the warrant requirement is the stop and frisk, also known as the Terry stop. This exception allows a police officer to stop an individual with reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. In addition, a police officer is allowed to search an individual’s person if that officer believes that the person is armed and dangerous.

Contact Our Illinois Attorneys Today

 These several exceptions allow for many instances where a person’s home, vehicle, or body can be searched without a warrant. If you believe that you have been unreasonably searched, call the skilled criminal law attorneys at the law offices of Law Office of Glenn M. Sowa, LLC today.