Under the 4th Amendment, the Constitution guarantees that an individual is to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in their homes. This is due to the fact that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy from government intrusion in their home. However, are the police required to obtain a warrant to search a house if the house looks or is abandoned?
Generally, when a person abandons property, they are relinquishing any control or interest in that property. As such, police are allowed to search without probable cause or search warrant any abandoned property since a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Because of this, in a situation where police are faced with abandoned property, whether it be an empty house or a discarded duffle bag, they are not required to obtain a warrant to search that property.
Determining Abandoned Property
To determine whether property has been abandoned, police officers have to look at the totality (or all of) the circumstances involved and come a to a reasonable decision. However, even if the police properly look at the circumstances and decide the property is abandoned, the decision is not absolute. If the search or the seizure of anything found is challenged, a court can review the police officer’s decision and overturn it.
Abandoned Property Not Based on Appearances
Although police officers are required to look at the totality of the circumstances when deciding whether property is abandoned, there have been instances of police officers simply looking at the appearance of the property in making this decision. However, just like the saying goes, you can’t judge a book on its cover. Courts have commonly found that just because a house or piece of property looks run down or “trashy,” does not give police an exception to the requirement of obtaining a warrant.
If you or someone you know have been charged with a crime based off a warrantless search, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help zealously defend your case and possibly get the evidence excluded. Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.