An arrest warrant is a legal document that is issued by a neutral magistrate or judge, and authorizes law enforcement to arrest a specified person who has been accused of committing a crime. This allows them to take the accused into custody based on the reason alleged in the warrant document.

The purpose of issuing an arrest warrant is to protect U.S. citizens from being unlawfully arrested, which is a constitutional right provided by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, the warrant is intended to provide actual notice to the person who is being arrested, as well as to inform them of the charges that are being brought against them by law enforcement.

An example of this would be how an arrest warrant may be issued when a person becomes a suspect in a criminal case. If the evidence causes the police to reasonably believe that a specific person committed a crime, they may request a warrant in order to arrest them.

Examples of such crimes generally include:

  • Rape;
  • Murder;
  • Theft;
  • Abduction; and
  • Breaking and entering offenses.

What Is An Arrest Warrant Search?

An arrest warrant search is an example of what constitutes a valid search by a law enforcement officer. In order to perform a property arrest warrant search, the officer must first obtain a valid arrest warrant. As was previously discussed, an arrest warrant allows the police to locate, track down, and arrest a person who is being requested to appear before a criminal court. In the process of arresting this person, the police may want to search the person for weapons and illegal contraband, among other such items.

It is important to note that the term “arrest warrant search” can also refer to the process of searching through county records, in order to determine whether a person currently has a warrant for their arrest that is in effect.

To reiterate, the police only need probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed in order to make an arrest. However, this fact generally only applies if the arrest was done in a public place. What this means is that if the police need to go to someone’s home in order to make an arrest, they would need to first get an arrest warrant from the judge before they can pull someone out of their home in order to make the arrest.

Are Searches That Are Made During An Arrest Considered To Be Valid?

A search made during a valid arrest is referred to as a “search incident to a lawful arrest.” This is a specific type of search, and considerably more limited than a search that is done according to a valid search warrant.

A search warrant is an order that is signed by a judge and gives police officers the right to search a specific place for specific objects or materials for a criminal investigation. Search warrants generally include areas such as a person’s home or apartment. In order to have a search warrant issued, the requesting officer must show that “probable cause” exists. What this means is that there must be some basis for the belief that evidence associated with a crime is on the property or premises.

Probable cause is the legal standard that is used in criminal investigations, as it refers to situations in which the officer has possession of facts within their knowledge that provide a reasonable belief that a criminal offense has been committed, or is about to occur.

An example of this would be if the police receive a tip from several informants that illegal drugs are stored in a house. It may be considered probable cause to believe that drug trafficking or drug use is occurring at that place. Under a search warrant, police can search the area that is listed in the warrant, and can search for the items or evidence that is listed in the search warrant document.

However, a search during an arrest is limited in two ways. Police can only search the person’s body and clothing, as well as the area immediately surrounding the person. This is generally an “arm span” around the person. Additionally, police can generally only search for weapons that might endanger the person, or for contraband related to the crime for which the person is being arrested.

Jurisdictions have different rules regarding the search of the person’s vehicle at the time of the arrest. Generally speaking, police can only access a person’s vehicle if the person could have accessed the vehicle at the time of the search. An example of this would be if the person might have been able to reach into the vehicle in order to grab a weapon or conceal evidence.

When Is A Search Considered To Be Unreasonable Or Illegal?

The purpose of such searches during an arrest is to prevent the suspect from escaping, obtaining weapons, and/or destroying evidence. As such, any searches beyond this generally require a search warrant. Under most circumstances, police will secure a separate search warrant if they need to search for more specific evidence when making an arrest. Unreasonable searches by the police will generally result in the evidence being excluded from the upcoming criminal trial.

An unreasonable search refers to when law enforcement searches with no warrant and no probable cause. To reiterate, probable cause exists when it is more likely than not that evidence of a crime can be found in the area being searched. Searches without an issued warrant are considered to be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and any evidence that is found during these searches will most likely not be used against a defendant in court.

There are a few exceptions that allow officers to search without a warrant. These include, but may not be limited to:

  • When a person consents, freely and voluntarily, to having their property searched;
  • If the evidence is in plain sight of the officer or the public;
  • If police are chasing a person;
  • When a person is arrested, officers may search their body and immediate surroundings but are limited to searching for weapons;
  • Vehicles during a traffic stop when there is a reasonable belief that evidence or illegal items are present; and
  • If they fear evidence being destroyed, or people being harmed immediately.

An example of this would be if an officer believes that a person is selling drugs. Without a warrant, the officer enters their house they are not home and searches for the drugs. This is an unreasonable search, and any evidence that was found during will most likely be excluded in court. Even if the person has been home, it would still be unreasonable without a warrant unless they invited the officer inside; or, if the officer approached the house, knocked, and noise from inside indicated illicit activity.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With An Arrest Warrant Search?

You should consult with a criminal lawyer if you need help with arrests, searches, or any other criminal matters. Your attorney can help you understand your rights as a criminal defendant, and will also be able to represent you in court as needed. It is imperative that your criminal rights are protected and are not violated in any way.