Search Warrants 101
Search warrants are orders from a court that allow the police to search a person or place for specific materials. However, in some cases the specifications of a search warrant are complex, and having a good lawyer can help negate the findings of a search warrant. This article will outline what a search warrant is and how it works.
What are Search Warrants and How are They Obtained?
A search warrant is an order from a judge that allows police to search a specified area at a specified time, and only for specified objects. These specifications are extremely important and will be covered more extensively later on.
Most police obtain search warrants after establishing probable cause under the Fourth Amendment. They use sworn witness testimonies, or affidavits, to convince a judge that there is probable cause for searching a location. These affidavits can be from other civilians or from police officers, themselves.
Bounds of a Search Warrant
Police can only search for the specific items in the specific location at the specific time that the warrant explicitly states. If a warrant states that officers may search the garage, they cannot then search the home, too. If the search warrant covers drug paraphernalia, only, the police cannot search for weapons. However, if police officers come across illegal items or objects that are evidence of a crime, they can seize usually seize it. Determining what search warrants cover can be argued about later on by a criminal defense attorney.
Are Search Warrants Always Necessary
No. In fact, there are many cases in which a search warrant is not necessary. Courts may often determine that a warrantless search was conducted under reasonable circumstances and confirm its legality.
For example, if the police pull a car over for speeding, then they have a reasonable case to search it. There are also "plain view" cases, in which an officer of the law sees a person committing a crime or with contraband material in open sight. In these cases, the office is authorized to conduct a search of the person.
Consent searches are another situation that doesn't require search warrants. If a police officer asks to search a home and the owner/resident gives consent, then they can do so freely and without a warrant. However, a defense lawyer may argue later what the bounds of the home consist of if the evidence is found, say, in the trash can outside.
Finally, police are authorized to execute searches in emergency situations. If someone's life is in danger, the police do not need to first get a search warrant to verify this is the case. If an officer on patrol hears screaming from an apartment, they are justified to enter the residence and search the premises.
Search warrants are a simple concept, theoretically, but can be difficult to pin down practically. If you are subject to a search warrant, it's vital to hire a high-quality criminal defense lawyer to ensure the bounds of the warrant and the objects found are legitimate. For more information, call (616) 931-7030 for a consultation with expert attorneys at Weise Criminal Defense.