When Can a Police Officer in Minnesota Conduct a Search Without a Warrant?

The Fourth Amendment protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. In general, police officers in Minnesota are required to get a warrant before conducting a search. This raises an important question: Can a police officer conduct a search without a warrant? The short answer is ‘yes’—but only in certain limited circumstances. Here, our Mankato criminal defense lawyers explain the key things to know about warrantless searches and explain the steps to take to protect your rights if you believe you were the subject of an illegal search or seizure.


Warrantless search law is notoriously complicated. There are decades of judicial decisions on Fourth Amendment cases. It is important to understand the basics. Here are four of the most common circumstances when a warrantless search & seizure is allowed:

  • Permission (Consent): The Fourth Amendment protects people against a non-consensual search. Once you give permission for a search, police officers no longer need to obtain a warrant. If the police request your consent to conduct a search, you have the right to say ‘no’. If you did not consent to a search, anything found at that time cannot be used as evidence against you in a criminal case.
  • Post-Arrest: Once someone has been lawfully arrested, police officers have the right to conduct a search of their person. This means that police can go through your pockets. If you were arrested in a vehicle, they can also go through your car after the arrest. That being said, if the arrest was illegal, then the search can also be challenged.
  • Plain View: Under the so-called ‘plain view’ doctrine law enforcement officers in Minnesota do not need a warrant to conduct a search if they can plainly see the evidence of a crime. Here is a simple example: imagine that you are stopped for speeding in Mankato, MN. When the officer approaches your vehicle, they happen to spot drug paraphernalia in the passenger seat. If it is clearly in ‘plain view’, the police officer does not need a warrant.
  • Exigent Circumstances: Finally, there is also a Fourth Amendment exception for ‘exigent circumstances’. In effect, police can skip the step of obtaining a search warrant if they can prove that there is an imminent risk of danger to the public. In too many cases, state and federal law enforcement abuse this exception.

If you were charged with a crime after a warrantless search, you may be able to challenge the validity of some of the evidence gathered against you. Under the ‘exclusionary rule’, a defendant may be able to get unlawfully obtained evidence thrown out of court. In some cases, getting key evidence excluded could make the entire criminal case fall apart. Be proactive: an experienced defense lawyer can help you challenge evidence obtained from a warrantless search.


At Kohlmeyer Hagen, Law Office Chtd., our Minnesota criminal defense lawyers fight aggressively to protect the rights of our clients. If you have any questions about warrantless searches, we are more than ready to get you answers. Contact us now for your completely confidential case evaluation. With an office in Mankato and an office in Rochester, our law firm serves communities throughout the entire region in Southern Minnesota.

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