Search Warrant Process

A search warrant is a document issued by a court and that court's judge that authorizes law enforcement officials to search a person or their property for evidence that can help a criminal case and it allows law enforcement officials to seize those items needed for the case. When there is a criminal inquiry, the United States Constitution requires that law enforcement officials obtain a search warrant before conducting any type of search. There is a major exception though: if a suspect flees the scene of a crime or a traffic stop and the officer pursues the suspect; the officer is allowed to enter into any building that the suspect runs into and can do so without a search warrant.

Search warrants must be specific and reasonable before they are granted by the judge in a court of law.

Some of the specifics they must include are the following:

  • If one room of a house is listed on the search warrant than only that room can be searched. If other rooms need to be searched than another warrant must be obtained by law enforcement officials.
  • If a vehicle needs to be searched on a property, a separate warrant needs to be obtained for the vehicle.
  • If the warrant is not reasonable in fact then a judge will more than likely not grant the warrant to the officials.

When are search warrants not needed?

Search warrants are not needed when police officers make routine traffic stops on the roads of the United States. When a traffic stop occurs, the officer can conduct a search of the vehicle with probable cause or if illegal items are in plain view of the officer's vision. The illegal items can be drugs, alcohol, or weapons. Other times when search warrants are not needed are:

  • Consent: When a person of interest to a police officer gives that officer consent then a search can be conducted without a warrant. If anything illegal is found on the person or on their property then those items can be confiscated and the person can be arrested.
  • Plain View: When illegal items are in plain view of an officer during a traffic stop or during a routine police procedure. Items in plain view can be drugs, weapons, or stolen goods. Plain view only comes into effect when the officer is lawfully on the premises
  • Arrest on the roads: During a traffic stop, if a police officer arrests the driver of a vehicle, they are then allowed to search the car and its compartments for contraband and weapons without a search warrant.
  • Arrest in a building or residence: When a person is arrested in their house or their office building the officer is allowed to legally search the room that they arrested the suspect in and perform a protective sweep of the building to check if there are other people hiding in the building.
  • Public Danger: A search can be conducted without a search warrant when police officers feel that the public is in danger during any emergency situations.

Search warrants are not that difficult to obtain by law enforcement officials so long as they present enough probable cause to the judge issuing the warrant. If the police are able to present a piece of evidence that supports their request for a search warrant then it makes the decision of the judge much easier when it comes to granting the warrant.

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