A search warrant is a court order that permits law enforcement to explore an individual’s residence or other belongings for evidence connected to criminality. U.S. citizens have the right not to have their houses or property probed by law enforcement officers without appropriate guidelines being observed, with a few precise exceptions. Parts of these procedures include acquiring a search warrant, a legal document signed by a judge. A search warrant gives police officers the right to search specific places for special objects.
To have a search warrant administered, the police will first need to demonstrate to the judge that they have probable cause. Simply put, probable cause means there is some basis for a belief that there is evidence associated with a specific crime on that particular property. In general, a search warrant is needed anytime an individual’s reasonable right to privacy may be infringed by the police’s search of their body, automobile, or home.
Any evidence acquired during the search is typically excluded from the trial without a search warrant. A warrantless search is permitted when the search concerns:
- An individual who has already been lawfully arrested;
- Automobiles that have been appropriately stopped with probable cause;
- Individuals who have agreed to be searched;
- Individuals who have been detained for an investigation;
- Areas that may be plainly viewed by law enforcement; or
- Evidence that could be lost or ruined if not instantly seized.
What Are Some Examples of Search Warrant Violations? When Are Search Warrants Unlawful?
Violations of search warrant requirements can cause multiple concerns for trials involving the violated warrant. Some of the most standard illustrations of violations of warrant requirements include but may not be limited to:
- Searching without a valid warrant that does not meet any of the previously mentioned standards;
- Getting a search warrant without demonstrating the probable cause of the crime or the evidence being kept on the property;
- Counting on a search warrant that has not yet been signed or authorized by a neutral judge;
- Searching an area not identified on the warrant; or
- Searching for things not identified on the warrant.
A clear example of a search warrant violation would be if the search warrant only documents drugs and drug paraphernalia as objects that may be searched for and seized. The police may not search for and seize other contraband, such as guns or other weapons. Nevertheless, police are authorized to seize any evidence in “plain view” on the premises when they are working under a proper search warrant.
It will be a violation if the police use the warrant to search for and seize weapons in an area not covered by the warrant, along with the drugs and drug paraphernalia in the area specified in the warrant.
There are some cases in which a search warrant is invalid or illegal. If a search ensues based on an illegal warrant, the search will be considered unconstitutional. A search warrant might be illegal if it was obtained without probable cause. A search warrant may be illegal if the search warrant does not detail the exact time, place, and items to be searched.
As formerly noted, if the search warrant is deemed illegal, evidence compiled from the search will presumably be thrown out. The evidence will not be used against the defendant during trial. The evidence cannot be used to charge the defendant with a crime.
What Transpires When Search Warrant Requirements Are Disregarded?
Typically, the cure for a breach of search warrant conditions involves what is referred to as the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule says that any evidence acquired due to an improper or illegal search is to be excluded from the evidence records in the trial, as previously mentioned. This is also known as suppression of evidence. While this rule does not stop violations from happening, it does help to prevent police and other authorities from disregarding warrant regulations.
Suppose you think your rights have been infringed in connection with a police search, and you suffered losses or harm as a result of the police violation. In that case, it may be feasible to sue the police for their violation. However, this is a complicated legal problem that typically requires the aid of an attorney. Your rights are important, and an attorney can help ensure you receive justice if your constitutional rights are violated.
What Are the Exceptions to the Search Warrant Requirement?
There are six main exceptions to the warrant requirement.
Search Incident to Lawful Arrest
A search incident to lawful arrest does not require the issuance of a warrant. In other words, if someone is lawfully arrested, the police may search the individual and any area surrounding the individual that is within reach (within their “wingspan”). The justification is that the search is permitted as a defensive measure for police safety and to secure evidence that might be destroyed.
- Example: According to an arrest warrant, James is taken into custody in his house. As the police escort James out of his home, they search the area within his wingspan. After fastening James in his car, the authorities search the house’s basement. Any evidence collected from the basement will be excluded because it was not within James’ wingspan as he exited the home.
A search incident to lawful arrest also applies to the search of a car, particularly when officers arrest a car’s inhabitants. An officer may search a vehicle if the officer reasonably believes that the car holds weapons available to the arrestee (an ongoing danger to officer safety) or if the officer thinks the car holds evidence regarding the crime of arrest.
Plain View Exception
No warrant is needed to grab evidence in plain view if the officers are legitimately in the location where the evidence can be viewed. For instance, an officer cannot illegally enter a suspect’s backyard and use the plain view exception to seize an illegally kept shark living in the pool. But, if on the premises to serve a warrant properly issued to search for marijuana plants, the shark can rightly be seized if in plain view.
- Example: The police are called to Damon’s house by neighbors who see him hitting his wife, Vanessa. After legally entering the house, police see Damon’s prized gun display hanging on the wall. Luckily for the police, the guns are not loaded. Unfortunately for Damon, many of them are illegal. Damon is arrested for battery, and the illegal firearms which are seized.
Suppose consent is given by a person reasonably believed by an officer to have the power to give such consent. In that circumstance, no warrant is needed for a search or seizure. So, if a suspect’s “significant other” provides police with a key to the suspect’s flat, and police reasonably think that she lives there, the search will not overstep the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights. The search would not violate the suspect’s rights even if the significant other did not live in the flat and even if she lacked authority to consent.
- Example: Officer William knocks on a murder suspect’s door. The door is answered by the suspect’s 5-year-old kid, Tommy. The officer asks Tommy, “Is it alright if I come in and speak to your Dad? He’s anticipating me.” Officer William then strides into the flat. He then sees the suspect, Ronald, sitting on the couch lubricating his illegal firearm, the suspected murder weapon. Officer William arrests Ronald for possession of the firearm and seizes the evidence. Because Tommy, being a little kid, was not legally able or qualified to give consent, the entry was illegal, and the evidence will be excluded.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Violations of Warrant Requirements?
Suppose you have been subjected to an improper or unlawful search. In that case, you should immediately confer with a professional and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. As noted above, it may be feasible to take legal action against the offending police or authority. It is essential to fight for and protect your rights to privacy and due process of the law.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer can seek to have any evidence illegally obtained under a warrant excluded from your case. Finally, an attorney can represent you at any required pretrial matters concerning the inclusion or exclusion of evidence obtained by a warrant, as well as during trial.