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Searches In or Around the Home

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Persons that have a legitimate expectation of privacy in their homes are protected against searches by state actors, absent consent or exigent circumstances.

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By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Drug Defense Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

The right of the people to be secure in their houses from unreasonable searches and seizures is guaranteed by the Federal and Pennsylvania Constitutions. In connection with Fourth Amendment protections, upon closing the door of one's home to the outside world, a person may legitimately expect the highest degree of privacy known to our society.  Because the right to privacy in one's domain is sacrosanct, the Pennsylvania constitution precludes the police from sending a confidential informer into the home of an individual to record electronically such individual's conversations and transmit them back to the police.

Warrantless searches and seizures inside a home are presumptively unreasonable. 

Absent consent or exigent circumstances, private homes may not be constitutionally entered to conduct a search or to effectuate an arrest without a warrant, even where probable cause exists.  A defendant can establish a legitimate expectation of privacy, despite lacking a common-law interest in the real property, if the defendant demonstrates certain characteristics of ownership. Among the critical characteristics of ownership is the right to exclude others from the premises in question.  Thus, a hotel room can be the object of Fourth Amendment protection as much as a home or an office. Warrantless searches and seizures inside a home or hotel room are presumptively unreasonable unless the occupant consents or probable cause and exigent circumstances exist to justify intrusion.

The Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures in peoples' "houses" has reference to places of occupancy.  However, there may likewise be a legitimate expectation of privacy in apartments, hotel rooms, or college dormitories. 

"Exigent Circumstances"- What are They?

Exigent circumstances so as to allow a warrantless search exist when inevitable delay in getting a warrant must give way to the urgent need for immediate action. The need for prompt police action must be imperative, either because evidence is likely to be destroyed or because there exists a threat of physical harm to police officers or other innocent individuals.  For instance, the pursuit of a fleeing felon may provide police with an exigent circumstance to enter a home as long as probable cause also exists.

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