When can Virginia police officers legally conduct a home search?
Photo of Attorneys T. Noel Brooks and Jesse Baez walking outside.
Photo of T. Noel Brooks and Jesse Baez

When can Virginia police officers legally conduct a home search?

On Behalf of | Jan 11, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Items found by Virginia police officers can become evidence in a criminal case. The state can use physical items, genetic materials, fingerprints and many other types of evidence when preparing to prosecute someone. Those hoping to defend against criminal charges often need to understand the evidence against them so that they can plan their defense strategy accordingly. Occasionally, defense attorneys can prevent prosecutors from presenting certain evidence during a trial by showing that police officers broke the law or violated someone’s civil rights while gathering that evidence.

Illegal searches are a violation of both the Fourth Amendment and best practices for police officers. There are only certain scenarios in which authorities can search someone’s home. When is a residential search lawful?

When officers have a warrant

Police officers who have some degree of evidence implicating a person in criminal activity can potentially convince the courts to grant them a search warrant. Search warrants allow police officers to conduct a search at a specific location in pursuit of a particular type of evidence. If officers arrive at someone’s home with a properly executed warrant, they can theoretically conduct a lawful search of the premises.

When police officers have probable cause

Sometimes, police officers enter and search property without a warrant. They might do so while in hot pursuit of a criminal from the scene of a crime. They might also have probable cause based on what they can observe about the property from its exterior. Seeing illegal items through a window, smelling drugs or hearing what sounds like a violent altercation inside could all give officers the probable cause they required to enter and search a domicile without a warrant.

When police officers obtain permission

All too often, those subject to a police investigation make a mistake by giving up their personal rights. When police officers asked to search their home, they open the door and let them inside. Often, officers ask because they otherwise would not be able to legally obtain access to the facilities.

They may also overstep what they can do given the permission they secured. Getting permission from one resident does not necessarily give officers the right to search the entire building. Someone with roommates, for example, could allow the police to search common areas and their bedroom, but not the private spaces of other roommates.

Those who believe that police may have violated rules about searches prior to an arrest could use that as an element in their defense strategy. Learning more about the limits on police authority and conduct may benefit those who hope to fight back against pending criminal charges.