Five Search Warrant Exceptions in Drug Cases

Generally, officers must have search warrants to seize physical evidence, such as illegal drugs. However, in many of these cases, things happen so quickly that officers do not bother with search warrants. Despite the prohibition against warrantless searches in the Fourth Amendment, the seized evidence might still be admissible.

Prosecutors can use the evidence in court if they prove that a narrow search warrant exception applied. So, if a Weatherford criminal defense lawyer disproves even one element of the exception, the exclusionary rule kicks in, and the evidence is inadmissible. The prosecution then collapses like a house of cards.


Owners or apparent owners can consent to property searches. Apparent owners are are people like vehicle drivers who do not actually own the vehicle. So, if officers stop a carful of people, they cannot keep asking people for consent until one of them gives in.

The consent defense is relatively easy to prove. That’s the main reason it is perhaps the most common search warrant exception in Parker County.

People have an absolute right to refuse consent. Their “no” can be “no.” They need not give officers a reason, even if they demand one. On a related note, officers often try to bully owners in these situations. They might say “If you do not consent, I will get a warrant.” That’s an empty threat. If officers had probable cause for a warrant, they would not ask for consent.

Plain View

THis exception often comes up in traffic stop scenarios. If an officer approaches a car and sees drugs or other contraband in plain view, the officer may seize it.

Partial plain view cases are in a grey area. Drugs that are in paper bags are not in a grey area. Officers cannot open such containers without the owner’s permission, or unless they have a warrant.

Search Incident to Arrest

Before 2009, this exception was probably the most common one in Texas. Officers often “arrested” people for minor offenses, such as speeding, and then searched their vehicles while they ran warrant checks.

However, in 2009’s Arizona v. Gant, the Supreme Court limited arrest-related searches to weapons pat-downs. Officers can still seize any contraband they find, or rather feel, in plain view. But given the limited scope, officers do not invoke this exception very much anymore.

Exigent Circumstances

Some vehicle searches involve this exception, which is also known as the emergency exception. But the exigent circumstances doctrine usually involves property searches.

Assume officers respond to a disturbance call at a house party. They might have the power to enter the dwelling without a warrant and make sure everyone is okay.

This exception has some strict limits. The alleged emergency must be in the house. If the aforementioned disturbance was on the lawn, officers might not have the power to enter the dwelling. Additionally, these searches are limited to safety sweeps. Officers cannot explore every nook and cranny.

Automobile Exception

If officers have probable cause to believe that there is evidence of crime in a vehicle, they may search the vehicle without a warrant. This exception also applies to boats, airplanes, and any other motor vehicles.

Officers do not necessarily need search warrants to seize contraband. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. Convenient payment plans are available.