What Is a Search Warrant and How Do the Police Get One?

I have found that many people are unaware of what exactly a search warrant is and how the police go about getting one. Below I address some of the basics regarding search warrants.

  • What Is A Search Warrant? A search warrant is a court order that gives law enforcement the legal right to conduct a search for evidence. The warrant itself is a piece of paper that states that law enforcement may search a specific place or thing, such as home, purse or cell phone. The search warrant should also be specific as to when the search should take place and what items may be taken as evidence.
  • What Items Can The Police Take as Evidence? The police are entitled to take any evidence described in the warrant. However, most warrants are very broad and list almost every conceivable thing the police may find as evidence including: computers, financial records, tangible objects, and any instrumentality of a crime. There are limits: for example, the police can’t take the refrigerator unless it is connected with a crime, but they can go through just about everything else in your home, car, purse or phone.
  • How Does Law Enforcement Obtain A Search Warrant? In order for an officer to obtain a search warrant he must submit an affidavit to the judge at the time he requests the warrant. The affidavit must be sworn to and signed by the officer requesting the warrant. In the affidavit the officer must state the facts that he believes establishes that there is enough evidence or probable cause to support the search. Basically, what evidence he has that there was a crime committed. If the judge believes that there is sufficient evidence, she will sign the search warrant.
  • Can the Probable Cause for a Search Warrant Be Based Solely on An Accusation? The answer is yes. Not only are search warrants issued just because someone said an individual committed a crime, often charges are brought against individuals without any physical evidence of any kind. Many accusations of rape, threats, or menacing lead to criminal charges even though there is no physical evidence or any witness other than the complaining witness.

If law enforcement shows up with a warrant to search your property, call an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.