Warrantless Searches And The Watertown ManhuntPosted: April 25, 2013
In the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy and the manhunt in Watertown, MA for the two suspects, many people have asked me whether it is constitutional for the police to set of up a perimeter in a town and search–without a warrant–every house in the perimeter for potentially armed and dangerous suspects.
Of course, there is no Fourth Amendment problem with the search if the occupants of the house give their consent, assuming it was not obtained under duress. But what if they do not consent? Must the police obtain a warrant, or does the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement apply?
Last week, in a determined quest to capture the lone remaining suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, law enforcement officers defined a 20-block perimeter in the middle of densely populated Watertown, Massachusetts and conducted a thorough, door-to-door search of all residences within those 20 blocks. There is no question that the suspect was dangerous. And it is probably true that many, if not most, of the residents in those 20 blocks were willing to consent to a search of their property to ensure that the suspect had not broken in and secreted himself in some nook or cranny. But absent consent, did heavily armed SWAT teams have a legal right to conduct warrantless searches of every house located within said 20 blocks?