Whether they can will depend on the circumstances; there can be circumstances in which they can enter a home or stop a vehicle and conduct a search without a warrant, irrespective of whether it was a crime or otherwise. However, such a search requires an exigent circumstance, meaning that, without their involvement, there may be destruction of evidence or the flight of a suspect for whom they already had probable cause to arrest, or there may be a danger to other persons involved.
The law generally requires a warrant, especially in drug cases, if probable cause has been established to stop a vehicle or make an arrest. Even in the face of a stop and detention, as long as the safety of an officer was not at issue when the suspect was being placed in a patrol car, law enforcement officers and prosecutors will agree that a search warrant was needed to do anything further with the vehicle after the traffic stop.
Dog sniffing cases are an interesting line of cases that are changing day to day with regards to whether or not a warrant is needed if a dog was used immediately and the dog alerted them and the car was then searched. There is no danger to law enforcement at that time, since the person is in the back of the patrol car at that point. I would argue, and many attorneys would agree, that at that point the officers would need a search warrant.
The law is changing in this area all the time. A very popular case dictated that a warrant should be obtained when there was no longer a threat to the officer’s safety, and I would argue that this rule should be extended to the home, etc. There are circumstances in which law enforcement can execute a search if they have probable cause, but as I point out in many cases, a search warrant should be obtained when the officers are at a place of safety and there is no longer that exigency.
Everyone has the right to demand a warrant, and there is no reason anyone, whether or not they were involved in something criminal related, should necessarily have to consent to a search of their vehicle, home or anywhere else. If someone is stopped for a traffic violation, and the officer asks if they have anything illegal in their vehicle, every citizen of the United States has every right to ask the officer why they were asking, to ask whether they had done anything illegal, and they can demand the officer either cite them for the traffic violation or allow them to leave.
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