What is a Search Warrant?
A search warrant is an order signed by a judge that gives police officers the right to search a specific place for specific objects or materials. An officer must have "probable cause" to believe that a search will produce evidence of a crime.
What is Probable Cause?
Probable cause means that the officer has a reasonable belief that a person is guilty of a crime. This belief must be based on factual evidence, not just on suspicion.
Does an Officer Need a Search Warrant to Search Me?
In certain situations, a police officer can search you or your property without a warrant. These situations include:
- Consent searches - if you voluntarily agree to a search, the officer does not need a warrant
- Plain view doctrine - police officers do not need a warrant to seize illegal items or evidence that is in plain view if the officer has a right to be where he is when he spots the evidence
- Searches made in connection with arrest - if you are arrested, the police can search you and the area where you were arrested without a search warrant
- Car searches - if you are pulled over for a valid reason, an officer has the right to search your car without a search warrant if he has probable cause to believe the car has contraband or evidence
When are Search Warrants Illegal?
Under certain circumstances, a search warrant may be illegal. A search warrant may be illegal because:
- It was obtained without probable cause
- It does not specifically specify what the officer can search for or where they can search
Do I Need a Lawyer if I Feel a Search Was Illegal?
Yes. A qualified criminal defense attorney will be able to determine whether the police followed the proper procedure in conducting a search. Whether the officers had a warrant or not, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer to protect your legal rights in the event the police target you for a search.
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Last Modified: 05-11-2011 03:30 PM PDT