As criminal defense attorneys in Charleston, South Carolina, we’ve dealt with cases where law enforcement searched our client’s home without a warrant. Generally, the Fourth Amendment protects your privacy by requiring police officers to obtain a warrant before they can search your home in South Carolina. Even if the police have “probable cause” to believe something illegal is going on inside your home, the 4th Amendment requires police to get a signed search warrant from a judge to legally enter and search your home.

In several cases, our clients allowed police into their homes only to find themselves arrested after the police discover drugs or other illegal activities in the home. Many of these clients were concerned that if they didn’t voluntarily let law enforcement into their homes, that things would somehow be worse for them. In fact, in many of these cases, law enforcement couldn’t get a warrant to search the home and would have had no evidence to make an arrest. In this article, our Charleston criminal lawyers explain when the police can search your home without a warrant, whether the police can search your property without a warrant, your rights in South Carolina when the police ask if they can come in your home or on your property, and what to do if you find the police at your door.

In South Carolina, Can the Police Knock on My Door Without a Warrant?

Yes. Law enforcement may approach your home to try to speak with you just like any visitor to your property may do because this isn’t a “search” under the 4th Amendment.

In South Carolina, Can the Police Search the Inside of My Home Without a Warrant?

Generally speaking no, unless you or someone in your home consents to a search or if the police are in “hot pursuit” of a suspect.

Consent to Search – There are many reasons why the police may show up at your doorstep wanting to “check things out” without a warrant. For example, maybe your neighbors called the police to complain about noises coming from your house or many people coming and going. In more than one case, we’ve had law enforcement suggest that they could supposedly smell marijuana coming from the home while the police were riding through the client’s neighborhood. Whatever the circumstances may be, you DON’T have to give your permission to search your home. In some situations, we hear from our clients that officers have threatened to get a warrant, to come back with K-9 units, etc. Regardless of how much you may feel pressured by the police, it is almost always in your best interest to politely refuse the officer’s request to search your home.

Hot Pursuit – Hot pursuit (also called “fresh pursuit”) is a legal doctrine that allows the police to enter your home without a warrant under two circumstances: (1) when the police are pursuing (chasing) a suspected felon into private premises or (2) when the lives of police officers or others are in danger.

Can the Police Search My Property in South Carolina Without a Warrant?

No, they can’t. The areas immediately surrounding your home are private property known as “curtilage.” Curtilage is area within which a home owner can have a reasonable expectation of privacy and where “intimate home activities” take place. This includes any closely associated buildings and structures (such as a tool shed or a free-standing garage) but doesn’t include “open fields beyond.” For some homes, the curtilage is well-defined by the position of fences, walls, thick shrubbery, etc. In situations where the home’s curtilage isn’t well-defined, the court looks at the following four factors to establish the boundaries:

  1. The proximity of the area to the home;
  2. Whether the area is included within an enclosure surrounding the home;
  3. The nature of the uses to which the area is put; and
  4. The steps taken to protect the area from the observation by people passing by.

In South Carolina, Can the Police Search My Trash Without a Warrant?

Yes, if your trash is at the curb. There is no expectation of privacy once you put your rubbish near the street for disposal. What’s more, if law enforcement find evidence of a crime in your trash, such as marijuana stems and seeds, then they may have “probable cause” to obtain a search warrant for your home.

The Police Are at My Door! What Should I Do?

Don’t let them inside. Instead, (politely) do one of the following:

  1. Meet them outside;
  2. Speak to them through a crack in your door; or
  3. Don’t answer the door.

Options 1 and 2 give you an opportunity to respectfully find out why the police are at your door. Remember, it is best NOT to let them in. If they ask to come into your home, politely refuse. Afterwards, you should immediately contact a lawyer before speaking to the police again.

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Charleston, South Carolina

If the police have come to your door wanting to search your house, then chances are they’ll be back again with a warrant. Contact the attorneys at Futeral & Nelson IMMEDIATELY to talk with us for FREE about your rights and how we can help you.

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