If the police search your car or your home without a warrant, they may justify it by saying that there were exigent circumstances that forced their hand. What does this mean, exactly?
The first thing to understand is that police officers typically need either a warrant or probable cause to perform a search. They can also operate under your permission. If they stop your car and ask you to search it, and if you say no, they cannot do so without meeting those criteria in most cases.
When they cite exigent circumstances, it typically means that there was an emergency situation or they felt that things were too urgent to follow the proper channels. They had to act right away. They knew that they had no time to get a warrant.
For instance, maybe the police pulled you over and they thought they saw you trying to destroy evidence of a drug-related crime. The officer witnessed this action through the open window of the car. This can create urgency because they’re worried that you could destroy all of the evidence if they have to wait, so they can then carry out a more extensive search. They have the probable cause needed to justify such an action.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of gray areas here, and these cases can get controversial if you do not agree with the officers’ accounts of what happened. Did they have the right to perform that search and seize alleged evidence, like cash from your car? It’s important to know what legal rights you have.