When Do the Police Need a Warrant to Search My House?

Imagine hearing a loud and forceful knock on your front door one day. When you answer the door there are several police officers standing there with the intention of searching your home. Having never been in this position before you are unsure what to do and what to say. Should you let them in? Can they search your home? “ When do the police need a warrant to search my home? ” you wonder. The easier question to answer is actually “When do the police not need a warrant to search your home?”

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits “unreasonable” searches and seizures, reading as follows:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Although the protection offered by the Fourth Amendment has been watered down over the years as it applies to searches of your person, vehicle, and other property, your home remains fairly well protected. As a general rule, the police must have a valid warrant, based on probable caused and signed by a judge or magistrate, before a legal search of your home can take place. There are, however, four commonly used exceptions to the general rule, including:


  • Consent – by far the most commonly used exception, consent allows the police to bypass the need for a warrant if you consent to the search. Never consent to a search without consulting your attorney first.
  • Incident to arrest – if the police are effectuating a valid arrest inside your home they are allowed to search the area under the arrestee’s immediate control to check for weapons or contraband.
  • Plain view – if you open the door and the officer can see contraband inside the home you have “opened the door”, both metaphorically and literally, to a search of your home.
  • Exigent circumstances – if an emergency exists, such as the police hear screams for help from inside the residence, they may enter and conduct a warrantless search of the premises.


If you have additional questions, or you are faced with a request to search your home, consult with the experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.

Dinah Michael