7 Sep 2022


Warrantless Search From the Constitutional Perspective

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The Fourth Amendment requires that all searches should be “reasonable.” In several cases, the Supreme Court of the United States has asserted its position that warrantless searches are in essence unreasonable. In the case of Katz vs the United States (1967), the Supreme Court held that that unwarranted search should be “subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions” (Kerr, 2013). It, therefore, means that unless the authorities are searching under judicial warrant, they are presumed to be violating the Fourth Amendment rights. Therefore, in a bid to avoid such a presumption, the law enforcers must prove that their warrantless search is justifiable under some exceptions. The exceptions include fleeting targets, consent search, officer safety search, booking search, and special needs search amongst others. In the King vs. Kentucky, 563 US 452 case of 2011, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision holding that evidence acquired as a result of improper entry and searches was null and void under the exclusionary rule. If the law went ahead and allowed searches from emergency created by police actions, it would put the Fourth Amendment especially the "expectation of privacy" in jeopardy. Therefore, in light of the bill of rights and exclusionary rule, warrantless search remains unconstitutional. 

For a police investigation to amount to a search, the court usually looks into specific considerations. First, the court must certify that the investigation did not infringe on an individual’s “legitimate expectation of privacy” (Kerr, 2013). Property under the custody of an individual is generally regarded as private. Therefore, if the police want to seek admission into a person's property and conduct their investigation, they need a valid search warrant. However, there are certain situations where the police would want to stop the suspect from destroying the evidence, where police can access the private property without necessarily having a search warrant. King vs Kentucky primarily hinged on these two aspects including the need to protect privacy and prevention from the destruction of evidence. In the course of pursuing a drug suspect, the police lost sight and mistakenly presumed that the suspect had entered an apartment from which a marijuana odor emanated. After the police heard movement and sounds, they assumed that the evidence was under destruction and forcibly entered the room to arrest Hollis King. The Courts of Appeal in Kentucky held that circumstances surrounding the warrantless search were not of the making of the police. The Supreme Court later reversed the decision because the suspect was not fleeing and a lack of evidence that the suspect knew he was sought after by the police. 

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The American constitution has provided a mechanism in which the private rights of an individual are protected from unwarranted searches. Clancy (2012) asserted that the exclusionary rule, for instance, deters the police from abusing these constitutional rights. As such, the courts will suppress any evidence collected without a search warrant. Allowing the police to use unwarranted searches will set a bad precedent in a nation that believes in an individual's privacy. For instance, the police might begin searching and seizing property from innocent people without any probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Furthermore, the law enforcers might resort to using crude and unscrupulous means in gaining admission to private property, just to obtain evidence. An example of such an incident was seen in the case of Kyllo v. the United States of 2001 (Clancy, 2012). The federal authorities arrested Danny Lee Kyllo after suspicion that he was growing marijuana in his homestead. However, it becomes apparent that evidence was collected using a thermal imaging camera to gain a view of the suspect's home. The lawyers, however, fought the case on the grounds of unreasonable search. The Supreme Court, in a narrow win, held that this was an unreasonable search that infringed on suspect’s privacy. 

The law has already provided the law enforcement with adequate grounds to conduct an unwarranted search under the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, it is only immoral and unconstitutional for the police to conduct any search outside these criteria. Some of the circumstances where the police are allowed to conduct an unwarranted search include when the suspect is fleeing or when there is sufficient evidence that the evidence is under destruction. Also, police can search fleeting targets without a warrant including buses, cars, and vehicles amongst others. The reason is that they can quickly move from one jurisdiction to the other when a warrant is being sought. The police can also conduct an unwarranted search if they reasonably believe that their safety is under threat. Therefore, under search circumstances, they have enough protection under the constitution which therefore obligates them to work within its dictums. In King vs Kentucky (2011), the respondent argued that the sounds and movements were enough proof to signify the destruction of evidence. However, there were no proof to valid, such claims. Unwarranted searches are therefore unconstitutional because they can provide malicious police with an opportunity to stage an unnecessary emergency with the aim of arresting a lawful citizen. 

An unwarranted search would also provide hotel and motel owners or employees to conducted unnecessary searches or call the police to the rooms occupied by their clients. Although the employees have the right to access the rooms for cleaning and maintenance, the same cannot be said regarding calling the police to obtained evidence. Therefore, warrants ensure that the rights of the citizens are protected even in commercially rented premises. Such a dilemma came into light in the case of Stoner v. California in 1964 (Parker, 2017). The police, without a warrant, had entered the hotel room of an individual and searched it in his absence. The petitioner was arrested and the articles obtained from his room used as evidence in his prosecution. The case disregarded the fact that a hotel guest enjoys constitutional protection against any form of unreasonable search or seizure. The hotel clerk had no authority to provide the authority with the permission to access the premises. Furthermore, the police did not have any basis to believe that the defendant had authorized the clerk to allow anybody to conduct the search (Parker, 2017). The Supreme Court of the US ultimately dismissed the case on the grounds of illegal acquisition of evidence. Therefore, it emphasized the need to protect the privacy of citizens even if they are not in their homes. 

A search warrant would ensure that there is a clear distinction between what the police needs to investigate during an arrest. For instance, the law allows for a contemporaneous search that involves purses, shopping bags, backpacks, and duffel bags, all of which guarantees their safety. However, they cannot extend to the property in the premise as this would require an extra warrant. In the 1969 case of Chimel v. California, the police arrested the defendant and extended the search to the entire house leading to the acquisition of massive evidence. However, the Supreme Court ruled that this was an illegal search because the police did not acquire an extra warrant (Kerr, 2013). 

In conclusion, the laws provide in the Fourth Amendment that all searches should be reasonably conducted. Obtaining evidence without following this statute would result in suppression. It is entirely unconstitutional for any federal authority or police to conduct an unwarranted search outside the realms overseen by the constitution. Allowing unwarranted search would give the police an opportunity to use their powers to breach privacy, harass, and even carry out a vendetta on an innocent citizen. 


Clancy, T. K. (2012). The Fourth Amendment's Exclusionary Rule as a Constitutional Right.  Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 10 , 357. 

Kerr, O. S. (2013). The Curious History of Fourth Amendment Searches.  The Supreme Court Review 2012 (1), 67-97. 

Parker, R. B. (2017). A definition of privacy. In  Privacy  (pp. 83-104). Routledge. 

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