A search warrant is a court order that allows law enforcement to search a person’s home or other property for evidence in connection with a crime. U.S. citizens have the right to not have their homes or belongings searched by the police without proper procedures being followed, with a few circumstantial exceptions. Part of these procedures is obtaining a search warrant, which is a legal document that has been signed by a judge and grants police officers the right to search specific places for specific items.

In order to have a search warrant issued, the police will first need to prove to the judge that they have probable cause. Simply put, probable cause means there is some basis of belief that there is evidence in connection with a specific crime on that specific property. In general, a search warrant is required anytime a person’s reasonable right to privacy may be violated by the police’s search of their body, car, or residence.

Without a search warrant, any evidence obtained during the search is generally excluded from the proceeding trial. A warrantless search is allowed when the search involves:

  • A person who has already been lawfully arrested;
  • Vehicles that have been properly stopped for probable cause;
  • People who have consented to being searched;
  • People who have been detained for an investigation;
  • Areas that may be plainly viewed by law enforcement; and/or
  • Evidence that could be lost or destroyed if not immediately seized.

What Are Some Examples of Search Warrant Violations? When Are Search Warrants Illegal?

Violations of search warrant requirements can cause several problems for trials involving the violated warrant. Some of the most common examples of violations of warrant requirements include but may not be limited to:

    • Performing a search without a valid warrant, that does not meet any of the previously discussed criteria;
    • Obtaining a search warrant without presenting probable cause of the crime, or of the evidence being held on the property;
    • Relying on a search warrant that has not yet been signed or approved by a neutral judge;
    • Searching an area not specified on the warrant; and/or
    • Searching for items not specified on the warrant.

A specific example of a search warrant violation would be if the search warrant only lists drugs and drug paraphernalia as items that may be searched for and seized. The police may not search for and seize other contraband, such as firearms or other weapons. However, police are allowed to seize any evidence that is in “plain view” on the premises when they are operating under a valid search warrant.

Thus, if the police use the warrant to search for and seize weapons in an area not covered by the warrant, in addition to the drugs and drug paraphernalia in the area specified within the warrant, this would likely be a violation.

There are some circumstances in which a search warrant is invalid, or actually illegal. If a search occurs based on the use of an illegal warrant, the search will usually be deemed unconstitutional. A search warrant may be considered illegal if the search warrant was obtained without proper probable cause, or if the search warrant does not state or list a specific time, place, and items to be searched.

As previously mentioned, if the search warrant is considered to be illegal, evidence gathered from the search will likely be thrown out and will not be able to be used against the defendant during trial. The evidence cannot be used to charge the defendant with a crime.

What Happens When Search Warrant Requirements Are Violated?

Generally, the remedy for a violation of search warrant requirements involves what is referred to as the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule states that any evidence obtained as the result of an improper or illegal search is to be excluded from the evidence records in trial, as previously mentioned. This is also known as suppression of evidence. While this rule does not actually prevent violations from occurring, it does help to discourage police and other authorities from violating warrant rules.

If you believe your rights have been violated in connection with a police search, and you suffered losses or harm as a result of the police violation, it may be possible to actually sue the police for their violation. However, this is a complex legal situation that generally requires the assistance of an attorney. Your rights are important, and an attorney can help ensure that you receive justice if your constitutional rights were violated.

Do I Need an Attorney for Violations of Warrant Requirements?

If you have been subjected to an improper or illegal search, you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. As mentioned above, it may be possible to take legal action against the offending police or officer. It is important to fight for and defend your rights to privacy and due process of the law.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can seek to have any evidence illegally obtained under a warrant excluded from your case. Finally, an attorney can represent you at any necessary pretrial matters regarding the inclusion or exclusion of evidence obtained by a warrant, as well as during trial.