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Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution[]

An exigent circumstance allows law enforcement to enter a structure without a warrant, or if they have a "knock and announce" warrant, without knocking and waiting for refusal, under certain circumstances. It must be a situation where people are in imminent danger, evidence faces imminent destruction, or a suspect will escape.

Exigent circumstances are:

[t]hose circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry (or other relevant prompt action) was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of a suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts."[1]

Exigent circumstances may make a warrantless search constitutional if probable cause exists. The existence of exigent circumstances is a mixed question of law and fact.[2] There is no absolute test for determining if exigent circumstances exist, but general factors have been identified, which include:

  1. clear evidence of probable cause;
  2. the seriousness of the offense and likelihood of destruction of evidence;
  3. limitations on the search to minimize the intrusion only to preventing destruction of evidence; and
  4. clear indications of exigency.

Exigency may be determined by: degree of urgency involved; amount of time needed to get a warrant; whether evidence is about to be removed or destroyed; danger at the site; knowledge of the suspect that police are on his or her trail; and/or ready destructibility of the evidence.[3] In determining the time necessary to obtain a warrant, a telephonic warrant should be considered. As electronic data may be altered or destroyed in seconds, in a factually compelling case the doctrine of exigent circumstances will support a warrantless seizure.

Even in exigent circumstances, while a warrantless seizure may be permitted, a subsequent warrant to search may still be necessary.[4]


  1. United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195, 1199 (9th Cir.) (full-text), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 824 (1984).
  2. United States v. Anderson, 154 F.3d 1225 (10th Cir. 1998) (full-text), cert. denied, 526 U.S. 1159 (1999) (citations omitted).
  3. United States v. Reed, 935 F.2d 641 (4th Cir.) (full-text), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 960 (1991).
  4. See United States v. Grosenheider, 200 F.3d 321 (5th Cir. 2000) (full-text); United States v. David, 756 F. Supp. 1385 (D. Nev. 1991) (full-text).

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