Fourth Amendment Exceptions – Administrative Searches

This is the fourth part in my series on Fourth Amendment Exceptions. The Fourth Amendment is our U.S. Constitutional protection against police searches and seizures. Normally a search or seizure has to be done with a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. The exceptions to the Fourth Amendment are situations where the warrant requirement is legally excused. The first three exceptions I listed were:

  1. Exigency or Exigent Circumstances (An immediate need to search)
  2. Search Incident to Arrest (A search of you and the area after you’ve been arrested)
  3. Consent (Where you give the officer permission to search or take something).

Now this brings us to another of the Fourth Amendment Exceptions – Administrative Searches.

What is an Administrative Search?

An Administrative Search under the Fourth Amendment is a search that usually relates to regulated businesses. The idea is that, by engaging in certain types of businesses, the government has a strong interest in supervising their actions, and you accept that searches will be conducted regularly, as allowed by the law. Not only that, but the law that controls these administrative searches will substitute for a Search Warrant. Usually these searches have to be limited to specific times of the day, specific locations, and the purpose of the search has to directly relate to the type of regulated business.  So what does all this mean?

What kinds of businesses are subject to administrative searches?

This the question that most people would ask. Here is a short list of businesses that would Administrative Searches would normally apply to:

  1. Junk Yards
  2. Farmers/Agriculture
  3. Oil and Gas Industry
  4. Restaurants

Junk yards are one of these businesses because they deal with valuable car parts. Frequently, cars and their parts are stolen. Police will often search junk yards to find out whether the cars or their parts are stolen. This can be done with serial number checks. The law may name specific times of the month, or year when these searches will take place. Keeping stolen vehicles or stolen vehicle parts on the premises is a serious risk to take.

Farmers and agricultural businesses are one of these businesses because of the public health and safety concern. If farmers have infestations of bugs in their fields or crops, or their livestock have diseases which can spread, these need to be monitored closely. A few examples of this can be seen on the news when there is an E. Coli outbreak, Mad Cow Disease, Swine flu, etc… Let’s not forget about the pot plants in your corn field. If inspectors find marijuana plants in your field, while looking for pests or diseased plants, they don’t have to turn their backs on it.

The oil and gas industry has many safety and environmental issues tied to it. Everyone knows that handling oil and gas can potentially lead to fires and explosions. Safety measures are in place for that reason alone. If there is an explosion on these sites, many people could get hurt or killed. From an environmental side of things, we don’t want oil or chemicals in our water supplies. This could make people sick, lead to death, and damage or contaminate farm land.

Restaurants are probably one industry that people are most familiar with administrative searches. Everyone has seen of or heard about Health Inspectors coming to restaurants. This is because of a public health concern. Hundreds or thousands of people can pass through a restaurant in a month or a year. There is a potential that someone can get food poisoning if proper procedures aren’t followed. Examples of this may be employees not washing their hands, roaches, rats, mice, improperly stored foods, etc… For these reasons, health inspectors are allowed to inspect restaurants and enforce food safety and handling laws.

How does an administrative search affect you?

If you own your own business, there is the potential that a part of the government has power to regulate your activities. This is especially true if you have a business where you need to have a license to operate or engage in that business. Criminal charges can be pressed against you for not following the laws relating to your business industry. It’s important to know what type or types of these administrative searches apply to your business and manage it accordingly.