Although an emergency or exigent circumstance is frequently cited as one justification for a search without a warrant,' "the contours of this exception have not developed and. . . [the Supreme Court] .. .has never pinned it down to a workable and effective meaning. Some of the ambiguity surrounding the emergency exception is attributable to the use of the single term "emergency" to embody several distinct concepts. An emergency can be defined broadly as the basic justification for all warrantless searches, or it may refer to a single type of warrantless search separate and distinct from other recognized warrantless searches. Even the latter concept of "emergency" leads to confusion because it ignores the courts' de facto distinction between emergencies involving a potential loss of life (emergency intrusions), and emergencies involving a potential loss of evidence (emergency searches).
Ronald J. Bacigal,
The Emergency Exception to the Fourth Amendment,
U. Rich. L. Rev.
Available at: http://scholarship.richmond.edu/lawreview/vol9/iss2/3