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The final motor vehicle search warrant exception is known as the medical emergency exception.

This search warrant exception is also referred to as a welfare check.  

Under the medical emergency exception, the police may forcibly enter a closed vehicle if they see that the driver of the vehicle is unconscious, incoherent or otherwise non-responsive.  The entry of the vehicle is justified under the assumption that the police have a reasonable duty to check on the welfare of an unconscious occupant of a vehicle.  

There must be a reasonable belief that the person is in immediate need of emergency aid before the police can enter the vehicle without a warrant.  If that belief if met, this exception allows the police to search the vehicle and the person without a warrant for purposes of discovering something that might aid in determining the cause of the person’s condition.  

Evidence of a crime discovered during a search under the medical emergency exception is admissible under the plain view exception.

COURTS WILL ANALYZE A SEARCH UNDER THE MEDICAL EMERGENCY EXCEPTION UNDER A TWO-PART TEST.

First, a court will look at the facts and circumstances of the case and determine whether the officer was motivated by a need to render emergency aid.  

If that first step is met, the court will then determine whether a reasonable person under the same circumstances would have thought an emergency existed which required emergency aid.  

As is always the case, the burden is on the state to show that the warrantless police search was justified under this medical emergency exception.

The scope of the search under the medical emergency exception will be limited to how quickly the searching officer can find information related to the person’s identity and possible medical condition.  

Searches of briefcases and other containers in the vehicle may be justified under a need to identify an individual or to find a medical alert card that might assist in rendering aid to the person.  The search under this medical emergency exception must end when it is apparent to the officer that emergency aid is no longer needed.

If you or someone you know recently had a vehicle searched by the police without a search warrant, contact our Minneapolis/St. Paul criminal defense lawyers for a free case review.  

Our criminal defense attorneys will fight to suppress all evidence unlawfully discovered by the police.

Author Photo

John T. Arechigo, Esq.

Attorney John Arechigo has a passion for criminal defense in St. Paul, MN. John received his J.D., from Hamline University School of Law and also carries a Bachelor of Arts from, The University of Minnesota. John was named Attorney of the Year for 2019 by Minnesota Lawyer. Additionally, John was also named as a 2019 Rising Star and was selected to Minnesota Super Lawyers in 2021. He devotes nearly 100% of his practice to defending individuals charged with a crime.

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