Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.  To be reasonable, generally a search must be supported by a warrant issued upon probable cause.  But, there are exceptions to this general rule.  There are certain situations under which a warrant is not needed to search.

Following are the exceptions under which a warrant is generally not needed:

  • Emergencies[i];
  • Pervasively regulated activities[ii];
  • Consent searches[iii];
  • Searches of areas in open view or open fields;
  • Searches accompanying administrative investigations or inspections;
  • Searches of the offices of government employees[iv].

In Mich. v. Clifford, 464 U.S. 287 (U.S. 1984), it was observed that if a warrant is necessary, then the object of the search determines the type of warrant required.  If the primary object is to determine the cause and origin of a recent fire, an administrative warrant will suffice.  To obtain such a warrant, fire officials need to show only that a fire of undetermined origin has occurred on the premises, that the scope of the proposed search is reasonable and will not intrude unnecessarily on the fire victim’s privacy, and that the search will be executed at a reasonable and convenient time.

In Michigan v. Essa, 478 U.S. 1012 (U.S. 1986), the respondent’s home caught fire.  The fire department came and extinguished the fire and left.  After sometime, an arson investigator entered the home to conduct investigation.  The court found that it was a search without warrant which violated the fourth amendment since the officer failed to give any notice to the respondent prior inspection.

[i] United States v. James Daniel Good Real Prop., 510 U.S. 43 (U.S. 1993)

[ii] Griffin v. Wis., 483 U.S. 868 (U.S. 1987)

[iii] Stephenson Enterprises, Inc. v. Marshall, 578 F.2d 1021 (5th Cir. 1978)

[iv] O’Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709 (U.S. 1987)


Inside Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement