The United States Constitution states in the Fourth Amendment that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This is commonly referred to as the search and seizure amendment. 

The phrase “illegal search and seizure” is commonly discussed in criminal cases. So what exactly are the rules for legal search and seizure in Massachusetts? 

Massachusetts Rules for Search and Seizure 

The United States Fourth Amendment works in conjunction with Article 14 of Massachusetts’ Declaration of Rights. These two legal frameworks prevent law enforcement from searching an individual, their automobile or their private residence without a search warrant. 

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How Is A Search Warrant Gained? 

To obtain a search warrant or an arrest warrant, the law enforcement officer must demonstrate probable cause that a search or seizure is justified. Probable Cause is the legal basis that allows police to arrest someone, conduct a search, or seize property. 

A detective or officer must sign an affidavit to state that they have investigated the circumstances and show reasons why a search, arrest or seizure should take place. This affidavit is given to a judge who then rules whether it is legal. 

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Warrantless Searches 

There are some circumstances where a warrant is not required by law enforcement. These include consent, plain view, hot pursuit, exigent circumstances, search to arrest, and the automobile exception. 


Consent is the most common type of warrantless search. In this case, an officer asks for consent to search and if it is given by the person then is considered a voluntary waiver of their Fourth Amendment rights.  

Plain View 

This factor in a warrantless search is indicated in its name. If the contraband or illegal item is clearly visible and in “plain view” it is reasonable that a warrant is not required.  

Exigent Circumstances 

The emergent circumstances surrounding a search impact whether a warrant is deemed necessary. The warrant requirement may be excused in exigent circumstances.  

There may be conditions where a search warrant may not be needed such as to prevent physical harm to a person, the destruction of evidence, and the escape of a suspect. Other situations when a search warrant may not be needed include when the police officer is in danger. 

Hot Pursuit 

If there is a police chase of a suspect that leads into a private residence, the officers can follow, without getting a warrant, under the hot pursuit exception.

Search Incident To Arrest 

Here is another exception to the search and seizure rules. If a suspect has been lawfully arrested for anything law enforcement may execute a search of the person. This includes their clothes and anything they may be carrying. It even includes the car they are traveling in. 

Automobile Exception 

The automobile exception to the search and seizure warrant requirement provides that law enforcement may search a motor vehicle, without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains illegal items.

For more information on search and seizure, contact us at the Law Office of Patrick Conway.