Thursday, August 8, 2013

Search Warrants

We’ve all seen police or court shows where the officer goes to the judge’s home, interrupting dinner or a card game, to have a search warrant signed.  Well, that does, in fact, happen in real life.  Only it’s usually not dinner or a card game that’s disturbed – it’s usually sleep that’s interrupted.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution provides “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

To obtain a search warrant, an officer must complete an affidavit in which he/she swears to the facts which will support probable cause to disturb a person’s home, etc., to search for evidence of a crime.  This is then presented to a judge, who administers an oath something like “Do you swear the information contained in this application for search warrant is true, to the best of your knowledge and belief?”  The judge then reviews the application and if probable cause if found, authorizes the search warrant.

The judge also has to determine whether it is necessary to execute the search warrant during the nighttime hours and also if a “no knock” (unannounced entry) is required for officer safety.

The officers then take the warrant and search the home/car/building/person described.  They must inventory any evidence seized, leaving a copy of the inventory with the suspect and filing the original in Court. 

Most of the search warrants I have done involve looking for drugs.  It’s very interesting to see a law enforcement officer who is working undercover – they often look as scruffy as those we see on the TV shows.  On the other hand, some of the saddest search warrants I’ve reviewed involve the seizure of a computer to look for child pornography. 

While I didn’t issue this warrant, I have seen a warrant authorizing the placement of a GPS monitoring system on the truck of a person suspected of stealing copper wire.  I saw that warrant in a case where the suspect had been charged with, you guessed it, stealing copper wire.

The test of a judge’s ability in reviewing and signing search warrants comes when a suspect is arrested and charged, and his attorney makes a motion to suppress (that is, “don’t let the jury see”) the evidence seized by the warrant because there was no probable cause, or the judge has made another mistake. 

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Next Week:  Jury Duty