Consent to Search
A warrantless search can also be conducted if a person gives consent to search. For example, according to the Supreme Court, if an individual allows an officer to come into her home and then consents to the request “Do you mind if I look around?” she has given consent to a search and any evidence located can be seized by the officer. That includes looking in closed containers in a car (Florida v. Jimeno, 1991).
Officers can make an arrest or conduct a search without a warrant under exigent circumstances. An exigent circumstance refers to a situation in which a police officer must act swiftly and the officer determines that he or she does not have time to go to a court to seek a warrant (Cole and Smith, 2007). For example, if officers are in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspected felon or if there are sounds of a struggle coming from within a house and it is possible someone might be in danger, officers need not stop to obtain a warrant and thereby risk losing evidence or allowing a suspect to get away.
To justify a warrantless search, officers do not need to prove that there was a potential threat to public safety (Cole and Smith, 2007). Officers often have to make on-the-spot decisions to apprehend a suspect or seek evidence when it is thought that delay might result in evidence being lost or destroyed. Practically speaking, judges are often reluctant to second-guess a police officer who has had to make a split-second decision when the urgency of a situation required—in the officer’s judgment—a warrantless search (Cole and Smith, 2007).