Warrantless Searches and Seizures

Exigent Circumstances for Warrantless Searches and Seizures


The fourth amendment to the US constitution protects the people of America against warrantless searches and seizures. Though the protection applies to both arrests and seizures, it is applied with less force to arrests. Unless the circumstances are really demanding, a warrantless search would be considered to be in violation of the fourth amendment. In case of arrests, however, the warrant requirement is not applied as strictly. As long as it is reasonable under the given circumstances, a public arrest does not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court has done so in order to balance the practical realities with the requirements of the Fourth amendment. On the other hand the topic of non-consensual entry into a private home is still open for discussion.

In US V Watson case, the Supreme Court decided that the fourth Amendment allows for warrantless arrests in the public absent exigent circumstances. In this case, it reversed the ninth circuit holding which had found it a violation of the Fourth Amendment based on the absence of warrant. The Supreme Court had based its decision on precedents, the common law and federal and state statutes.


Felony arrests in public do not require a warrant where the officer has probable cause that the crime has been committed. As in Devenpeck et al. v. Alford, the Supreme Court held the arrest reasonable based on the fact that the officer had probable cause to believe an offense was committed. Similarly, in cases where an officer has made a lawful arrest, there is no need for a warrant to conduct a search.  Again in Dorman V United States, Supreme Court agreed that the entry for arrest was lawful. It thus created some exceptions to the general rule of warrantless entries being considered unconstitutional. Based on some exigent situations, the court cited that warrantless entries could be lawful. In its opinion, US Supreme Court listed six requirements based upon which it can be determined if there is a need to obtain a warrant in a given case. These requirements are:


  • Gravity of the offense: How big the crime is? The gravity of the crime is a determinant of whether a warrant is necessary. If the police suspect the gravity of the crime is major, the warrant is not essential.
  • Reasonableness of the belief of the suspect being armed: If police reasonably believes the suspect is armed, there is no need of a warrant to make an entry.
  • Clear showing of probable cause: The probable cause should be clear. It means that the officer’s belief that a crime has been or is being committed should be based on strong reasons. Even if there is a probable cause, officers must be sure that there is strong enough reason to believe so. Such an action cannot be taken based on doubts or assumptions.
  • Reasonable belief that suspect is on the premises: If the police has sufficient reason to believe that the suspect is on the premises, a warrant is not required to enter. However, again police’s belief must be backed by sufficient reason.
  • Likelihood of escape: If there is strong likelihood that the suspect can escape if not apprehended quickly, the police can make a warrantless entry. The court has done this to make the task of police easier in reasonable cases and to help the law.
  • Peaceful entry: If a peaceful entry is reasonable under the given circumstances a warrantless entry would be reasonable.


Police’s duty sometimes requires it to make some quick decisions and in that  case, it might not always have sufficient time to get a warrant before making an entry or arrest. Here, law has made the task of the police easier by providing it space through which it can act under special circumstances demanding quick action. Unless these exceptions were provided, the police would have remained optionless in cases where grave crimes were committed and it was unable to arrest the criminal. This could have been detrimental law enforcement and the protection of public life and property.