The Fourth Amendment right against warrantless searches of a person’s home is a pillar of Americans’ constitutional liberties. Before a police officer or any other government official can enter your home, they must show a judge that they have probable cause that they will discover specific evidence of a crime.
There are some limited exceptions to this right. There is an “exigent circumstances” exception. If a police officer looks through a home’s window and sees a person about to stab another person, the officer can burst through the door to prevent the attack. There is also the “emergency aid” exception. If the officer looked through the same window and saw the resident collapsing from an apparent heart attack, the officer could run into the house to administer aid. Neither of these cases violates the Fourth Amendment and few would argue that it should be otherwise.
However, there is a broader cousin to these exceptions called the “community caretaking” exception. It derives from a case in which the police took a gun out of the trunk of an impounded vehicle without first obtaining a warrant. The Supreme Court held that there is a community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement because police perform “community caretaking functions, totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.” The Court held that police activity in furtherance of these functions does not violate the Fourth Amendment as long as it is executed in a “reasonable” manner.
Note that, unlike the first two exceptions, this one is not limited to immediate emergencies. In the Supreme Court case just described there was only a general concern that vandals might eventually break into the impounded car and steal any weapons that were in the trunk. So the community care exception is far broader than the other two.
Also, all three exceptions allow warrantless searches so long as the police officer acted “reasonably.” That is one of the easiest constitutional standards to meet and is a significantly lower standard than “probable cause,” which is required for a warrant. As long as an officer might reasonably think that a warrantless search will alleviate a danger to the community, the search is considered constitutional.
Read the rest at: forbes.com