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Can the Government Enter My Residence Without a Search Warrant?

The simple answer is NO, unless there is a valid exception to the warrant requirement, and exceptions to the warrant requirement are narrowly drawn. It is a basic principle of the Fourth Amendment that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable, and physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed. Absent exigent circumstances the threshold of a person’s home may not reasonably be crossed without a warrant. The burden is on the government to establish the legal basis for its warrantless intrusion. When there are reasonable alternatives to a warrantless search, the state has not satisfied its burden of proving exigent circumstances.

What Are “Exigent Circumstances”?

The phrase “exigent circumstances” refers generally to those situations in which law enforcement agents will be unable or unlikely to effectuate an arrest, search or seizure, for which probable cause exists, unless they act swiftly and without seeking prior judicial authorization. In other words: police had to act fast for some important reason that outweighs the usual requirement that they get a warrant, first.

The terms “exigent circumstances” and “emergency doctrine” are often used interchangeably, however the parameters of exigent circumstances are not so well defined that the phrase may be regarded as a free port of entry for all purposes. There are three general categories of exigent situations:

  1. danger to human life;
  2. destruction of evidence; and
  3. flight of the suspect.

Mere inconvenience or the saving of time will not excuse the procurement of a warrant, as some element of emergency must exist which would render a search ineffective if delayed by the time necessary to get a warrant.

The two most common exceptions to the warrant requirement are the “emergency doctrine” and the so-called “hot pursuit doctrine.”

Emergency Doctrine

The United States Supreme Court recognized the emergency doctrine in the case of Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978), and this doctrine was adopted by the Connecticut Supreme Court in the matter of State v. Magnano, 204 Conn. 259 (1987). The emergency doctrine states that the Fourth Amendment does not bar police officers, when responding to emergencies, from making warrantless entries into premises and warrantless searches when they reasonably believe that a person within needs immediate aid.

Hot Pursuit Doctrine

In Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294 (1967), the Supreme Court first recognized a "hot pursuit" exception to the warrant requirement. Under the hot pursuit exception the police may make a warrantless entry onto private premises on the exigency of pursuing a fleeing suspect. The rationale supporting the exception is that a suspect should not be able to thwart lawful police investigation by means of escape to a private place. For the exception to apply, police pursuit must be "immediate or continuous" from the time it is initiated.

Totality of the Circumstances and the Reasonable, Well-Trained Officer Test

Whether the government has established an exception to the warrant requirement will be decided under the totality of the given circumstances. Did the officer have reasonable grounds to believe that, if an immediate arrest were not made, the accused would be able to destroy evidence, would flee or otherwise avoid capture, or might — during the time necessary to procure a warrant — endanger the safety or property of others? This is an objective test based upon what a reasonable, well-trained officer would believe, and not what the arresting officer believed.

Once the government makes a warrantless entry, the burden is on it to establish the reasonableness of this Fourth Amendment violation. Thus, if the government enters your premises without a search warrant make sure you do NOT subsequently give them CONSENT, as this may vitiate any Fourth Amendment violations.

The West Haven, Connecticut criminal defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Mirto & Rasile are absolutely committed to protecting our clients rights against unlawful government action. Please contact us if you have a Connecticut criminal matter pending and need assistance.

Categories: Criminal Defense

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