Houston Criminal Defense Blog

Know Your Rights: Police Search and Siezure without a Warrant

search and seizure

Encounters with police and law enforcement generally occur under emotionally-charged circumstances. A situation in which a Texas police officer tries to gain entry into your home, apartment or vehicle without your permission can quickly escalate out of control and could lead to your arrest. Knowing your rights during these encounters and what police are legally entitled to do is important to avoid additional legal problems for yourself.

Your Rights Under the Fourth Amendment

Police searches, whether of your home, car, backpack or the jacket you are wearing, are limited by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The drafters of the Constitution needed only a single sentence to define your right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

However, because it is so short and to the point, its terms are subject to interpretation based upon the facts and circumstances of each specific situation. For example, the Constitution refers to searches of the following as being protected by the Fourth Amendment:

  • Persons
  • Houses
  • Papers
  • Effects

Decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States have expanded the protection to include cars, places of business, and other items and places not mentioned in the amendment. A recent case resulted in the Court finding that a GPS device affixed to the exterior of a suspect’s car so police could track his movements was a Fourth Amendment violation.

Warrants under the Constitution

In order to conduct a search, the Supreme Court has ruled that police should obtain a warrant from a judge. Searches conducted without a warrant are presumed to be unreasonable and place the burden of proving that they complied with the Fourth Amendment on the police and prosecutors. If the police have a warrant, the burden is on you, as the one challenging the legality of the search, to prove that it violated the Constitution.

If police show up at your door with a search warrant, there is little you can do other than cooperate and stay out of their way. To do otherwise, will likely result in your being arrested for interfering with the police. The proper way to challenge an entry by police under a warrant is to contact a criminal defense attorney in Houston to represent in contesting the search in court.

Entry By Police Without a Warrant

The Constitution permits police to enter without a warrant if they have probable cause. Probable cause means they have a belief, supported by facts, that a search of a particular location or individual will reveal evidence of criminal activity.

Unlike entry by police in which a warrant is handed to you, entry based upon probable cause can be difficult to contest at the moment it is happening because all you have to go on are statements by police officers claiming to have probable cause. Under such circumstances, your best course of action is to:

  • Remain calm: Getting excited and yelling or aggressively arguing with police officers could simply give them grounds for arresting you.
  • Be firm and respectful: Make it clear in a firm but respectful tone that you are not consenting to entry by the police. If officers ask for person to enter, tell them in a clear and precise manner that you do not consent to their entry.
  • Do not make physical contact with police: The one thing that will almost certainly result in your arrest is attempting to prevent entry by the police by touching or getting in the way of an officer.

How To Undo a Consent Search in Houston

Police might ask for permission to enter or to conduct a search. Do not consent without first getting legal advice from your attorney. If you do consent, keep in mind that you have the right to withdraw it even after police have entered or begun conducting a search.

The same rules about how to act toward police officers when they enter claiming to have probable cause apply when withdrawing your consent. It is important to be firm in demanding that the search or entry stop, but it is just as important to remain calm and nonaggressive.

Beware of Emergencies

Courts have carved out an exception to the rules about entry and searches by police in emergency situations. Police sometimes refer to “exigent” circumstances to justify an entry when they do not have a warrant, probable cause or consent.

When an emergency exists, police are allowed to enter in order to deal with the emergency. Typical emergency situations that might occur include:

  • Smoke billowing from a building
  • A strong odor of gas indicating a possible gas leak
  • A car crash in which an occupant is trapped in the vehicle
  • The sound of gunfire or screams for help coming from inside a house or building

Emergency situations authorize police to enter solely to deal with the emergency. They are not invitations to enter to conduct a search.

A Houston Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

A Houston criminal defense attorney is your best source of information and guidance about entry and searches by the police. Seek legal advice if you believe you have been the victim of a police entry.

Contact the Law Offices of Billy Skinner. We will fight to protect your rights!
Call (713) 600-7777 or email for a confidential consultation.

Photo JGrindal | Used under Creative Commons image attribution license 2.0

Categories: Criminal Defense