Can a police officer come into your home if there looking for someone, but only minors are there?

Legally entering a home

United States citizens are protected under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution from unreasonable searches and seizures. Specifically, their house, person, effects, and papers are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. Recently on our forum a user asked, “Do the police have the legal authority to enter a home if only a minor is present?”

Searching a home legally with a warrant

Police officers who want to enter private property generally need a warrant, which is a signed document issued by a judge which identifies the location and the material which can be searched. The warrant should only be issued if the police have convinced the judge that they have probable cause or a reasonable belief that a crime has taken place.

After the warrant is issued the police have the legal authority to search the location specified on the warrant, including your home or car. If a police officer has a warrant they can enter your home at any time, even if only a minor is present.

When can a police officer enter your home without a warrant?

Although a warrant is generally required and applies whether a minor or adult is present, there are times that a police can enter your home regardless of who is present, even if there has not been a warrant issued. Exceptions to the law are discussed below.

  1. Legal consent

Police may legally enter a home if given consent. The police should not use coercion or try to trick the individual into allowing them to make the search, but they also do not have to explain the law. Exceptions may exist under certain circumstances (i.e. minor may only be allowed to consent to a shared living space and could be barred from consenting to areas they did not have specific access to such as a safe, computer, or locked closet).

  1. Plain view doctrine

Under certain circumstances a police officer may be allowed to search your home if they see evidence of a crime which is clearly visible within your home. For example, if they are standing on your porch and they see cocaine sitting on a table they may conduct a search without a warrant.

  1. Search of home while arresting an individual

Police officers may also be allowed to search for additional evidence if they are making the search in connection with an arrest. For example, if they have arrested you but they suspect there is someone else in the home that may destroy evidence they have the right to search for weapons, accomplices, or visually inspect other areas to find any other evidence in plain view.

  1. Other exigent circumstances

There are other circumstances, referred to as exigent circumstances, which may void the requirement for a search warrant. For example, if they believe a suspect is trying to escape, there is evidence in a home (associated with a crime) that is currently being destroyed, or they have probable cause to believe a crime is being committed, they may have the legal right to enter the premises.

Can minor consent to search without a warrant?

So, let’s go back to the question at hand: Can a minor consent to a search of the premises? The answer depends on whether the search meets the criteria identified above, whether the officer has a warrant, or whether the officer is concerned about the child’s safety.

The question most often comes up when the court is deciding if the officers made a legal search and is determining whether evidence gathered from the officers search should be admitted into evidence.

Before deciding if it was a legal search the court will consider several factors:

  • Whether the minor shares the property
  • Whether they have access to the property
  • Whether they “freely, knowingly, and voluntarily consented to the search"
  • Whether they had the age, maturity, and intelligence to consent to the search
  • Whether the police coerced them

Bottom Line:

States have different laws about the rights of minors to consent to a search. Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about a warrantless search.

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