A search warrant is a legal document or order that allows the police to conduct a search of an individual or a property. Search warrants must be signed by a judge, and they indicate the time, date, and reason for the search.
The law enforcement agency seeking the warrant has to prove – through evidence and an affidavit, that the evidence they’re looking for is valid and true. An affidavit is basically a written statement made after taking an oath. In this case, the affidavit needs to suggest that there are some suspicious activities taking place in the given site. Moreover, the claim must be objective, and not based on personal beliefs or opinions.
There is another class of search warrants known as anticipatory search warrants. This is a pre-signed search warrant that authorizes the police to search the underlying location when the items they suspect to be contraband are delivered. For instance, if an officer convinces a judge that a drug truckload is going to be delivered to a certain house within the next few days, the judge can grant an anticipatory search warrant that allows the officer to do a search once the truckload is delivered.
Notably, the information written in the affidavit does not have to be admissible as evidence in a trial. For instance, when the police receive a tip-off from one of their credible confidential informants about a drug shipment in transit, the judge would give the order based on hearsay, and not credible evidence. The hearsay rule, which deals with such situations, allows judges to issue warrants when the police present confidential witness accounts they believe to be true, even when the informant is not present or cannot sign an affidavit.
Sources that would be considered credible by a judge include:
- Confidential police informants
- Another police officer
- A person implicating him/herself in addition to the suspect
- A victim of a crime related to the requested search
- An eye witness to a crime related to the search
- An informant who the police consider reliable after doing partial verification.
Notably, the constitution bars the police from conducting searches without search warrants. This means a case may be thrown out if the evidence was collected illegally. However, judicial procedures allow judges to consider evidence gathered from searches where the search warrants were absent or invalid. In US vs. Leon (1984) case, the Supreme Court ruled that evidence conducted from unauthorized searches should be admissible, as long as the search was conducted in good faith as per the warrant. For instance, if the police obtain a search warrant for cocaine, but after the search, a cache of guns (instead of cocaine) is discovered, then the illegal guns would be admissible in court, even if they were not stated in the search warrant.
If you have any issues with search warrants, immediately consult an experienced criminal lawyer for advice on the way forward. Of course, it is not a guarantee that a criminal lawyer, no matter how good or experienced they are, will make the warrant go away. However, they will diligently represent you and fight for your rights as well as try to find loopholes and capitalize on them to secure your freedom.