Exigent Circumstances.    (See Full Document for Citations)


Government agents may conduct a warrantless search or seizure if (1) probable cause supports the search or seizure, and (2) “exigent circumstances” exist. Exigent circumstances include imminent destruction of evidence, a threat to the safety of law enforcement officers or the general public, “hot pursuit” of a suspect by police, or likelihood that a suspect will flee before the officer can obtain a warrant.

If exigent circumstances do not compel an immediate warrantless search, police may secure a residence to prevent destruction or removal of evidence before obtaining a search warrant.

If police reasonably believe that their safety or the safety of others is threatened, they may enter a dwelling and conduct a search as broad as necessary to alleviate the danger. If officers reasonably believe inherently dangerous items are present, they may search in places where those items could reasonably be found. The police may also enter a residence in order to render emergency aid to victims or those imminently threatened with harm. Extremely dangerous conditions may create exigent circumstances that justify warrantless entry of a home. Other dangers to the public, such as fires or potential fires, may also constitute exigent circumstances that justify a warrantless entry. Officials at the scene of a fire or explosion do not need a warrant to remain in the building for a reasonable time after the fire has been extinguished to investigate the cause, to search for victims, or to prevent further dam age. However, once the cause has been established, officials must secure a warrant to conduct a further search for evidence.

Warrantless searches may also be justified by the exigency of hot pursuit if the pursuing officers have probable cause to arrest the fleeing suspect. The Supreme Court has stated that “hot pursuit” means some sort of chase, but it need not be an “extended hue and cry in and about [the] public streets.” The hot pursuit justification for a search is valid only if officers make an immediate and continuous pursuit of the suspect from the crime scene. The scope of a search justified by hot pursuit is only as broad as necessary to prevent the suspect from resisting arrest or escaping.

A warrantless entry or arrest may be justified if the police have reason to believe that a suspect will flee before the police can obtain a warrant. The scope of such a search is only as broad as necessary to prevent the suspect from resisting arrest or escaping. Beyond the specific examples of exigent circumstances listed above, courts consider several factors to decide whether a search or seizure is justified by exigent circumstances. First, courts consider the gravity of the offense that prompts the search or seizure. Second, courts consider whether the police conducted the search or seizure in a reasonable manner, which requires the police to show that a telephone warrant was unavailable or impractical. Third, courts consider whether the police impermissibly engaged or threatened to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment to create an exigency and subsequently use that exigency to justify a warrantless search or seizure. However, police generally do not have a duty to alleviate potential exigencies. To determine whether exigent circumstances justify a warrantless entry, courts examine the totality of circumstances during the period immediately preceding the entry.