What is consent?
Consent means letting someone do something. If you tell the police that it is okay to enter your house or car, you are giving them consent.
In some cases, the police may ask for your consent to search something. You have a right to say no to a search. If you give the police consent to search, they do not need a warrant, even if they otherwise would have needed one.
Warrants and police searches
A warrant is an order, issued by a judge, instructing a police officer to search a particular place or to arrest a specific person. A judge has to decide if a warrant should be issued or not. Sometimes the police need a warrant to conduct a search or make an arrest; other times they do not need one.
For the police to use a warrant, the warrant must describe in detail:
- The place they want to search
- The person or thing they want to take
Can the police search my home?
In most cases, police officers cannot enter your home without a warrant. If they do have a warrant, what they can do depends on what type of warrant they have.
With a search warrant, the police may search any of the areas described in the warrant, including any containers large enough to hold the evidence they are looking for.
With an arrest warrant, they can search the person named in the arrest warrant, as well as the area right around that person.
Law enforcement officers can only enter your home without a warrant if:
- You give them consent to enter; or
- There is an emergency, like chasing someone who committed a felony.
Can the police search my car?
It depends. Usually, the police do not need a warrant to search a car. The rules for entering or searching a car are very different from the rules for searching your home.
If the police have a reasonable belief that evidence or illegal items will be found in the car, they can search your car for those things. This is also called probable cause.
However, even if the police do not have probable cause, they can still search the car if the driver or a passenger in the car has been arrested. They generally cannot search the trunk or other locked compartment. However, they can if the car is going to be towed away.
The police illegally searched my house or car
If you think a search is taking place illegally, you can say “No” or “I do not consent.” However, do not physically try to stop law enforcement officers from entering or searching your home or car.
As soon as possible after the search, write down all of the details that you can remember, including the:
- Time and place where the incident took place
- Names, badge numbers, and/or physical descriptions of the officers involved
- Type of clothing the officers were wearing
- Type of car the officers were driving (marked or unmarked)
You should then contact a lawyer to discuss the situation.
My property was damaged during a police search
You should contact your city or county to file a damage claim. The City of Chicago's Damage Claims Department can be contacted at (312) 744-6870.
Updated: December 1969