Search Warrants: Know Your Rights About Search and Seizure

search warrants

Search warrants give police officers evidence criminals in court. If an officer executes a search in your home, you may be in trouble. However, having a good understanding of the process and your rights can help you. Learn everything that you should know about search warrants before a search happens to you.

What Are Search Warrants?

A search warrant is an order issued by a judge. It allows law enforcement officers to search a specific location of your home. Although the warrant gives an officer permission to seize specific items, it does not give him permission to seize unrelated items.

Getting a warrant isn’t as easy as you might think. A police officer needs to show that there is probable cause that you committed a crime. Additionally, they need to show that there is a likelihood of finding the items you used to commit the crime at the location of the warrant. After assembling this information, the officer needs to take it to a judge for approval. Only then can they serve the warrant and search the property on the warrant.

How Are You Protected?

Fortunately, the Constitution protects you and other US citizens from unlawful searches. In the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, there is a clause that protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure by law enforcement. If a search occurs without a valid warrant and does not merit an exception to the warrant rule, it is unreasonable. In this case, the search violated your constitutional rights.

There are four basic requirements that every search warrant needs to meet.

1. An Officer Filed It in Good Faith

For search warrants to be valid, officers need to file them in good faith. If they have any ulterior motives, the warrants may be invalid.

2. The Warrants Show Probable Cause for Searching and Have a Backing of Reliable Information

Before a warrant gets approval, an officer needs to show reliable information that he has good reason to search your property. A gut instinct or inaccurate information is not enough to support a warrant. If an officer tries to get a warrant with unreliable information, a judge will not approve it.

3. A Neutral Magistrate Issues the Warrant

Judges can have biases, and those biases could get in the way of fairness. Only a neutral magistrate can issue a warrant. If he has any outside connection to the case, he could make an unfair decision.

4. The Warrant Limits the Search to a Specific Area and the Seizure to Specific Items

Search warrants cannot be general. Instead, they need to specify the exact location for the search and the exact items for seizure. An officer cannot look in a place that is not on the search warrant.

What are the exceptions?

There are some exceptions to the rules regarding search warrants. If an officer conducts a search, he can stray from the terms of the warrant. However, it has to be for the purpose of protecting their safety or someone else’s safety. Or, they could stray from the warrant if they are trying to prevent evidence destruction.

Officers can also do seizures of items that don’t appear on their warrant. Once again, this can only happen in a specific circumstance. For example, a police can seize an unlisted object if it is in plain view while they search your property.

Sometimes, a search warrant isn’t necessary. Here are a few examples:

1. You Give Consent

If you give an officer consent to search your home, he doesn’t need a warrant. For this reason, you should never consent to a search. It’s within your rights to deny him. When he comes back with a warrant, you do have to let him in.

2. You Have Illegal Items in Plain View

Anything in plain view is fair game without a search warrant. If it’s on a table or counter, an officer can seize it whether or not he has a warrant.

3. A Search That Occurs Prior to Arrest

When an officer arrests you, he can legally search you and your nearby surroundings for items that can harm him. If the arrest occurs near your vehicle, he can search the passenger compartment of your vehicle without a warrant.

4. Other Circumstances

If an officer believes (within reason) that you might destroy evidence or put others in danger before he could get a warrant, he could perform a search. However, there needs to be strong evidence supporting his belief.

5. An Officer Believes That Your Vehicle Has Contraband

Unlike your home, your vehicle is vulnerable to police searches without search warrants. All he needs is to believe that you have contraband inside your vehicle, and he can conduct a search.

6. An Officer is in Hot Pursuit

If an officer is in hot pursuit of a criminal, he can enter and search a private home. He can search the whole home without a warrant.

Although there are exceptions to search warrants, illegal searches do happen. If you believe that you were a victim of an illegal search, you should speak to a criminal lawyer. She can help you determine if you were a victim.