What Is a Search Warrant?

A search warrant is a legal document signed by a judge that authorizes law enforcement officers to search a specific location for specified objects and/or materials. The warrant must detail:

  • Areas to be searched
  • Reasons the officer has for searching the premises

Obtaining a Search Warrant

To obtain a search warrant, law enforcement agents typically write an affidavit, which is a statement given under oath. The purpose of the affidavit is to convince the judge that the officer has sufficient probable cause to believe that criminal activity is taking place at the location to be searched.

This affidavit can be done over the phone after the officer is sworn in. If it is done over the phone, the conversation is generally recorded. It is our standard practice to obtain the recording or affidavit in any case we represent that involves a search warrant. This is important because if the affidavit contains misleading or incorrect facts or doesn’t have enough information, the search warrant may be invalid.

Limits of the Search

Officers may only search:

  • In the areas described by the warrant
  • For specific items detailed by the warrant

For example, if the warrant states that the “house” is to be searched, officers may not search the tool shed in the backyard.

However, if officers come across evidence or contraband during the course of the search that is not specifically named in the warrant, they may still be able to seize it.

Can I Be Searched Without a Warrant?

Depending on the situation, you may be searched without a warrant.

If a law enforcement officer asks your permission to search you or your property and you grant it, he or she may conduct the search without obtaining a warrant. However, the scope of the search could still be limited; for example, you could give permission to search your house, but not the tool shed in your backyard.

Search in Connection With Arrest

If you have been lawfully placed under arrest, law enforcement agents can conduct a search of your person and everything within your immediate control. If you were arrested without a warrant, then this search would not require a warrant either.

Plain View Doctrine

Officers can also seize illegal substances or evidence that is within “plain view.” For example, if an officer pulls you over and sees a bag of marijuana on the passenger’s seat, he or she may have probable cause to initiate a search of the vehicle.

Searches and the Fourth Amendment

All searches—warranted and warrantless—must comply with our Fourth Amendment right to freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” If you feel you have been the subject of an unreasonable search and subsequently arrested, contact our office for a free consultation. Our experienced attorneys will examine the details of your case and help you determine the best course of action.

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