The Fourth Amendment and interpretations of this key federal protection by the courts help to protect individuals from inappropriate searches and property seizures in Maryland and across the United States. Limitations on searches prevent police officers from violating people’s rights and invading their privacy.
Typically, police officers need a warrant to search someone’s home, but sometimes they conduct warrantless searches. What reasons might justify searching someone’s private residence without a warrant?
When they have probable cause
Police officers can search a property when they have probable cause to suspect a crime has occurred or is currently in progress. For example, if police officers hear someone screaming for help behind a closed door, they could force entry into that space to help that individual. Officers can also use what they see or smell outside of a property to justify their decision to enter it without a warrant.
Sometimes, the hot pursuit of a suspect from another location can justify forced entry into a space, but there are limits. Typically, the crime has to be serious enough to warrant the police pursuit. Some actions that may not seem like probable cause can lead to a search of private property. Simple actions like flushing the toilet or running a garbage disposal when police officers are outside could lead to those officers assuming someone was destroying property and forcing their way into the home.
When they have permission
The other very common reason that police officers search a property without a warrant is that they get permission from someone. Those hoping to cooperate with the police because they believe they have committed no crime sometimes make the mistake of letting officers into their homes, only to learn the hard way the officers won’t leave again when they rescind that permission if they have found anything that could implicate someone inside.
There are many scenarios in which police officers might break the rules and conduct a search that they should not at a private residence. Those who can show that officers broke the law or violated their rights could potentially use that misconduct as part of their defense strategy during a criminal trial. As a result, educating oneself about civil rights and police conduct may lead to a more effective response to pending criminal charges in Maryland.