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Do the Police Always Need a Warrant to Conduct a Search in California?

Steven R. Andrade Nov. 23, 2021

Americans are protected against illegal searches. Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, unreasonable searches and seizures are unlawful. This raises an important question: Can police in California ever conduct a search without a warrant? The answer is ‘yes'—but only in limited circumstances when certain specific criteria are satisfied. Below, our Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyers explain the key things to know about warrants and searches in California.

Criminal Law: When Are Warrantless Searches Allowed in California?

Police do not have an unobstructed right to conduct searches as part of a criminal investigation. As a general rule, law enforcement officers need to go before a judge and prove probable cause in order to obtain a search warrant. The Santa Barbara Police Department, Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office, and the California State Police are all required to respect the rights of individuals. That being said, there are exceptions. Here are four circumstances in which police may be allowed to conduct a search of a defendant without a warrant:

  • Permission: Police do not need a warrant to conduct a search if they get permission. Law enforcement officers will frequently ask for consent to conduct a search of a person, their vehicle, or their home. You are not required to give consent. The fact that you did not allow a search cannot be used against you in court. If you do give consent for a search, the police are allowed to proceed without a warrant.

  • Plain View Doctrine: If evidence of a crime is in plain view of an officer, he or she does not need a search warrant to take additional action. For example, imagine that you are pulled over for speeding in Santa Barbara. If the officer spots an open alcoholic beverage in the cup holder, they can take action even without any other suspicion of intoxicated driving.

  • Post-Arrest: A person who has been placed under arrest will have their person searched. In effect, this means that police can look through your pockets. Any evidence of criminal activity obtained during the post-arrest search may be admissible in court.

  • Exigency: Finally, law enforcement officers in California are sometimes allowed to conduct a search without a warrant in exigent circumstances. A warrantless search may be permitted if police can assert that there is an imminent danger to public safety.

All four exceptions that allow warrantless searches are limited. Law enforcement officers are typically supposed to seek a warrant from a judge. Unfortunately, illegal searches and seizures remain a serious problem in Santa Barbara County and throughout California. If you were the victim of an illegal search, you may have remedies available. The evidence collected by police during an illegal search may not be admissible in court. A Santa Barbara, CA criminal defense lawyer can help protect your legal rights.

Get Help from Our Santa Barbara, CA Criminal Defense Attorney Today

At Andrade Law Offices, our Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyer is a dedicated, solutions-driven representative for defendants. If you have any questions or concerns about illegal searches and illegal seizures, we are more than ready to help. Contact our firm today for a no cost, no strings attached case evaluation. With a legal office in Santa Barbara, we provide criminal defense representation throughout the wider area, including in Goleta, Lompoc, and Santa Maria.