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Get the Facts About Search Warrants

May 6, 2022

Search warrants are required for any member of law enforcement to search through your home, place of business, or similar private property. Get the facts about search warrants, including what they are and how they’re obtained before you consent to a police search

What is a search warrant?

A search warrant is an official order issued by a legal judge that gives law enforcement the right to look for certain items at a specific location. The judge’s order will specify the exact area that the search warrant is applicable to, and which items the police are allowed to search for. This could include contraband weapons, illegal drugs, or records that prove a crime has been committed. 

How can a police officer get a search warrant? 

If a police officer wants to search a home, place of business, or any other location that is not public property, they must make their appeal to an objective party like a judge or magistrate. They will be required to prove that they have probable cause to assume that crimes are being committed at the location in question. They may also be able to get a search warrant if they believe a location will contain evidence of a crime. 

The police will offer the judge a written statement, otherwise known as an affidavit, which will detail their claims or contain reliable witness testimony. Affidavits are created under oath and can be contested if the information is found to be false. The person creating the affidavit will often need to swear to their testimony before a public official or similar witness. If the judge is convinced by the police officer’s affidavit, they will approve the request for a search warrant. 

A defendant is not typically present when a search warrant is issued, rendering them unable to debate the topic. They may be allowed to contest the warrant later. Your attorney can counsel you on the best course of action if you wish to contest a search warrant related to your case. 

What areas can a police officer access with a search warrant?

While a warrant will give a police officer access to a certain location, they are confined by the limits of the judge’s stipulations. For example, if the warrant tells an officer that they can search only the basement of a home, they are not allowed to search the rest of the house. Likewise, the police are only permitted to search for specific items as listed by the judge. They cannot seek out weapons if the warrant only lists paper records as a target. If a police officer does find another illegal or contraband item during their search, however, they are often within their legal rights to seize the property. 

Search warrants can also be issued for an individual. The same rules apply: if a police officer has a warrant for a person, they cannot search other citizens in the area unless they have reason to believe a crime is being committed. 

Do the police always need a warrant?

There are scenarios where law enforcement may not need a search warrant to search an area. It is possible for suspects or individuals to consent to a search; in which case the police would not need to obtain a warrant. The police are not legally required to inform people that they do not have to consent to a search, which can complicate legal cases for defendants. If a member of law enforcement requests your consent to search an area, it is advised that you wait for your attorney to weigh in on the matter. 

In addition, the police have the right to search the immediate area after an arrest has been made, such as a cell phone search or a sweep of a personal vehicle. Other cases of legal searches without warrants may include emergency searches or items that were ‘in plain view.’ If you are pulled over and a law enforcement officer sees that your car contains contraband, they are often legally allowed to search your vehicle without a warrant. 

Contact Janet AltschulerJanet Altschuler has been defending the residents of Tucson, AZ, and the surrounding areas for over twenty years. For your convenience, Janet Altschuler can be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To schedule a free consultation, you can call 520-247-1789 or 520-200-5003.

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