When Can the Police Search My Home or Car?

When Can the Police Search My Home or Car?
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Last updated: October 2007

What is a warrant?

A warrant is an order, issued by a judge, instructing a police officer to search a certain place or to arrest a particular person. A judge has to decide if a warrant should be issued or not.  Sometimes the police must get a warrant to conduct a search or make an arrest; other times they do not have to.

How do I know if a warrant is valid?

In order for the police to use a warrant, it must particularly describe the:

  • Place to be searched, and
  • Person or thing to be seized

Do the police need a warrant to search my home? 

 

In most cases, police officers cannot enter your home without a warrant.  The type of warrant the police have can affect their rights to search certain parts of your home. 

  • With a search warrant, the police may search any of the areas described in the warrant, including any containers large enough to hold the evidence or contraband they are looking for.   
  • With an arrest warrant, they can search the person named in the arrest warrant, as well as the area immediately surrounding that person. 

Law enforcement officers can only enter your home without a warrant if:

  • You give them consent to enter, or
  • There is an emergency (for example, if the police are in "hot pursuit" of someone who just committed a serious crime)

Do the police need a warrant to search my car?

Usually, the police do not need a warrant to search a car. The rules for entering or searching a car are very different from the rules for searching your home. In order to legally search a car, the police need either:

  • "Probable cause"- this means the police must have a reasonable belief that evidence or contraband will be found in the car; or 
  • If the driver or a passenger in the car has been arrested, police can search the inside of the car (where the driver and passenger usually sit). They cannot search the trunk.   

What is Consent?

"Consent" means permission. If you tell the police that it is okay to enter your house or car, you are giving them consent. 

In some cases, the police may ask for your consent to search something. You have a right to say "no" to a search! If you give the police consent to search, they do not need a warrant, even if they otherwise would have needed one.   

What should I do if I think the police are searching my house or car illegally?

If you think a search is taking place illegally, you can voice your concerns by saying "No" or "I do not consent". However, do not physically try to stop law enforcement officers from entering or searching your home or car. 

As soon as possible after the search, write down all of the details that you can remember, including the:

  • Time and place where the incident took place
  • Names, badge numbers, and/or physical descriptions of the officers involved
  • Type of clothing the officers were wearing (i.e., uniformed, shirt and tie, etc.), and the
  • Type of car the officers were driving (marked or unmarked)

You should then contact a lawyer to discuss the situation. Search the "Helpful Organizations" section below to find free legal help.

What can I do if my property was damaged during a search?

Contact your city or county to file a damage claim. 

The City of Chicago's Damage Claims Department can be contacted at 312.744.6870.

Helpful Organizations
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