Can the Police Enter Your Home Without a Warrant in Utah?

The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution helps secure peoples’ right to have their “persons, houses, papers, and effects” safe from unreasonable search and seizure.  This rule generally requires the government to get a warrant and to have probable cause before the search can take place, but there are exceptions to the warrant requirement and probable cause requirement that can allow police to search your house without a warrant.  The Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers at Overson & Bugden explain.

When Can Police Enter My House Without a Warrant in Utah?

As mentioned, police usually need both probable cause and a search warrant to enter your home to search it.  If they are entering your home to arrest you, an arrest warrant that authorizes them to find you at your home will be necessary.  While police usually still need probable cause to perform a search of your house, they might not need a warrant under certain circumstances.

Generally, police do not need to stop what they are doing, go to court, and get a warrant if certain circumstances arise that don’t allow for the time to go and come back.  Many of these circumstances are time-sensitive issues and are usually referred to as “exigent circumstances” or simply “exigencies.”  Police still need probable cause to perform a search under most of these exigencies, but some exigent circumstances remove the need for probable cause entirely because there is some bigger need to act quickly.

Hot Pursuit

Your home is usually a safe place to go, but running into your house does not stop police from chasing you to try to arrest you.  If a police officer saw you committing a crime like assault or robbery and started chasing you, they can follow you nearly anywhere.  If you run into your house – or anyone else’s house – a police officer in hot pursuit can follow you inside to arrest you there without needing a warrant or probable cause to enter the building.  The officer will still need probable cause to arrest you, however, but that is separate from the grounds for entering the house.

Evidence Destruction

If police knock on your door and quickly realize that you are inside destroying evidence, they may be able to break down the door and enter quickly so that they can stop you from destroying the evidence.  This could happen when police come to your door to investigate a crime and hear you shredding documents, flushing drugs, or burning evidence of a crime.  Police usually must still have probable cause that you committed a crime and that there is evidence in the house that is being destroyed, but this exigent circumstance can let them skip getting a warrant.

Public Safety and Emergency Help

If police are called to your house because of a disturbance or an officer sees or hears something that makes them think someone is in danger inside, they are usually allowed to enter without a warrant.  Here, the purpose of entering the house is not to try to uncover evidence of a crime or to search your house, but rather to provide help.  If police see signs of a struggle, hear cries for help, see a fire, or witness other indications that someone is in danger, they may break in to help them.  Once legally inside, though, anything they see in plain view could be seized as evidence and lead to criminal charges.  E.g., if they see drugs or weapons inside, you could be charged with a drug crime or illegal weapons possession.

Moveable Property

Usually, police do not need a search warrant to search or seize moveable property like a car or truck.  The reasoning here is that in the time it takes an officer to go to court and get a warrant, the owner may have moved the property, and then they can’t search it.  If your house is a mobile home, police may attempt to use this moveable property exception to the warrant requirement, but they still need probable cause to perform the search.  Talk to a lawyer about this complex situation, especially if your “mobile home” is not easily moved.

Witnessing a Crime

If a police officer witnesses you commit a crime, they can usually arrest you on the spot – even if you are in your home.  For instance, if a police officer was looking in your window and saw evidence of a crime, such as piles of drugs and money on a table, this might give them probable cause to perform a search.  The same is true if they actually witness you committing a crime inside – such as if they see you taking drugs or committing murder through the window.  In many cases, the warrant requirement will be waived for this kind of situation, and police can enter to arrest you and seize the evidence they saw through the window.

Fighting Illegal Search and Seizure for Home Searches

If a police officer enters your home illegally, any evidence they seize once they get inside should be thrown out.  This is done through a process called “suppression,” and your lawyer can help file motions to suppress evidence from an illegal search.  Even arrests and confessions stemming from an illegal entry can be thrown out under some circumstances, but it is always best to have a lawyer present during questioning and negotiations with police or prosecutors to avoid unnecessary disclosures or admissions.

Call Our Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation

When a police officer knocks on your door, it can be confusing and scary.  If your home was searched or you were arrested at your house, call a lawyer today to help protect your rights and get illegally obtained evidence blocked from court.  For a free legal consultation on your case, call the Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law today at (801) 758-2287.