Many people are familiar with a search warrant, a signed court order by a judge that allows police to lawfully search a certain place to look for certain items.
But search warrants aren't always required. Here are several instances where police do not need a search warrant to rifle through people's belongings-or even their house.
Search incident to arrest
If a person is being arrested in his or her home, authorities can conduct a warrantless search for weapons. This is often referred to as a protective sweep. Anything the cops do find can be used against that person-despite not having a warrant.
Police officers are also allowed to conduct a search without a warrant if there is an emergency situation in which taking the time to get a valid search warrant would either put the public at risk of harm or because evidence would likely disappear or be destroyed.
If a person shares a house or apartment with a roommate, that roommate can give police consent to search the common areas shared, such as the living room, bathroom or kitchen -even if the other person living there isn't present to give consent.
If officers see weapons, drugs, contraband or anything other evidence in plain view (plain sight) they can lawfully take that evidence and use it as evidence to convict-all without the need for a warrant.
It's important to note that this area of far from cut and dry. Whether a search and seizure requires a warrant will often depend on the jurisdiction and individual circumstances. Those with questions about specific situations are encouraged to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.