If someone is house-sitting and has a heart attack so emergency services are called, if the police come can they also search the house without a warrant?

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If someone is house-sitting and has a heart attack so emergency services are called, if the police come can they also search the house without a warrant?

I was out of town and while my mother-in-law was house-sitting for me, she had a heart attack. The police came into my house and then searched it. They broke into my daughter’s room, went through our drawers and even my mail. The whole time they were searching, my wife’s aunt kept telling them that the house did not belong to my mother-in-law; that she was house sitting and had no right to search the house. My family feels violated. Can the police do this without permission or a warrant?

Asked on July 4, 2015 under Criminal Law, Alabama

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

No, the police may not search without consent (of someone who could give consent legally; an owner or a renter/tenant or a family member who lives there and is not merely visiting) or a warrant, with two exceptions: if when they come, they see something which suggests a crime was or is being committed in the home, they may be able to search for the potential criminal or attacker, or for a weapon (so an unsecured weapon is not left unattended); and if they see something in plain sight, that is not a "search" (so if the respond to a heart attack and their are drugs on the coffee table, the police may take the drugs and use them in court). But otherwise, they many not do a general search without a warrant or consent, even when allowed in to respond to a heart attack or other medical emergency.


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