fleeting targets exception | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Procedural Law

The fleeting targets exception is a legal rule that permits police to search or seize a vehicle without a warrant under specific circumstances, such as when a suspect might quickly leave.

The Fleeting Targets Exception is an important principle in U.S. law. This principle plays a significant role in how police carry out their duties. It applies to situations where the police attempt to stop a suspect in a vehicle. If this suspect is quickly moving, the exception comes into play.

In practice, this exception allows police to perform a search or seize a vehicle without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution usually protects citizens from such actions. But, under certain conditions, the Fleeting Targets Exception bypasses this requirement.

This exception works only when obtaining a warrant isn’t practical due to the circumstances. This may occur when a suspect in a vehicle might leave the jurisdiction or destroy evidence before a warrant can be obtained.

Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion

Two vital components come into play for this exception. The first is “probable cause.” Police need to have a reasonable belief that the vehicle holds evidence of a crime or contraband.

The second is “reasonable suspicion.” The police must have a justifiable belief that the vehicle might soon leave the jurisdiction. There should also be a reasonable possibility that evidence may be lost before they can secure a warrant.

Implications of the Fleeting Targets Exception

The Fleeting Targets Exception can have significant implications. It balances the need for effective law enforcement with the rights of individuals under the Fourth Amendment. On one hand, it allows police to act quickly when they believe a crime is happening. On the other hand, it maintains some level of protection for citizens’ rights, as further search requires a warrant.


The Fleeting Targets Exception is a critical principle within U.S. law enforcement. It provides police with the ability to respond quickly in certain circumstances without a warrant. However, it does have limitations to ensure the balance between law enforcement effectiveness and constitutional rights. This principle showcases how the legal system attempts to maintain this delicate balance in the pursuit of justice.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/20/2023

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