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When Can Police Search Without a Warrant in New York ?

In People v. Mitchell (39 NY2d 173, 347 NE2d 607, 383 NYS2d 246 [1976]), the Court of Appeals ruled that a warrantless search and seizure of private property would be considered reasonable and therefore not in violation of the Fourth Amendment if it complied with three enumerated elements.

The New York Court of Appeals formulated a three-prong test for determining whether the police are presented with an emergency situation that justifies a warrantless entry into a protected area:

(1) the police must have reasonable grounds to believe that there is an emergency at hand and an immediate need for their assistance for the protection of life or property;

(2) the search must not be primarily motivated by intent to arrest and seize evidence;

(3) there must be some reasonable basis, approximating probable cause, to associate the emergency with the area or place to be searched. (Id. at 177-178)

In 2006, the United State Supreme Court rejected the second prong of the Mitchell standard, stating that an inquiry into the subjective motivations of the police is no longer necessary in determining whether the Fourth Amendment has been violated. (Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 US at 404, 126 S Ct 1943)