In general, warrants are legal documents that are issued by the judge upon finding probable and reasonable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, and therefore, will need further investigation. If the warrant’s purpose is to summon someone before the judge after evading a court hearing, then it is a bench warrant. Meanwhile, if the warrant’s purpose is to detain or arrest someone for allegedly violating a law, then it is an arrest warrant. Finally, if the warrant’s purpose is to inspect a specific premise for evidence of a certain crime, then it is a search warrant — which we will be discussing in this article in more detail.
Search warrants do not magically exist; to craft one, law enforcement officials must first obtain intelligent information that evidence of a crime is present in a specific location. Of course, they do not have to be a hundred percent sure that there is evidence in the specified location. However, their assumptions must be backed up by reasonable and strong details. After that, they will have to present their gathered data to the judge in the form of a signed and sworn affidavit. If the information is strong enough, the judge may file a search warrant.
But under what grounds would the judge base on for filing a search warrant? California Penal Code PC 1523 listed the following acceptable reasons:
- When the evidence at hand was stolen;
- When the evidence at hand was used as a tool for a felonious act;
- When the evidence at hand was transferred to the custody of another person for the purpose of hiding it or preventing it from being discovered;
- When the evidence at hand consists of a part or item that can be traced back or used as proof that a felony has been committed; and
- When the evidence at hand may consist of child pornography.
For the sake of simplicity, these are just a few examples. Should you wish to see the full list, you may look up the penal code yourself.
Now, what exactly will the cops be searching for? It can be anything for as long as it is probable evidence of a crime. Meanwhile, the police can search your body, your house, your car, your business location, etc. If they discover the object in question, they are legally obligated to seize it.
So, we’ve finally established what search warrants are, but how are they executed? Honestly speaking, there is a gray and sensitive area as to how search warrants should be performed. The problems surrounding the unlawfulness of police officers involved in the search, for instance, is a topic worthy of its own separate article. However, there are general rules as to how law enforcement should execute a search warrant:
- Objects, entities, or locations that are NOT included in the warrant are not necessarily subjected to police inspection. As much as possible, officers must only follow the exact directions stated in the warrant;
- Any search, regardless of it stemming from a valid or invalid search warrant, must be conducted within 10 days of its issuance. After the 10-day mark, the police can no longer conduct a search.
- Unless specified by the judge in the warrant, the police may only conduct the search between 7:00AM and 10:00PM.
- Officers must first ask for your permission to enter your home if your residence is the subject of the search warrant. Should you refuse entry, they are legally allowed to force their way into your place.
- Officers should inform you what they will be conducting and introduce themselves as law enforcement.
Illegal Search and Seizure
In many unfortunate cases, the search and seizure procedure by cops transition to illegal activity. A classic example would be when a police officer comes inside your home, seizes an object that he/she assumes is an evidence of a crime, then brings it to court — all without a valid search warrant. If so, you may protest to suppress evidence under California Penal Code 1538.5.
If the judge approves your motion, then any evidence seized will be thrown out of court as the evidence, no matter how integral in solving a crime, is acquired illegally. And the court cannot use illegally seized evidence.
Talk To a California Criminal Defense Lawyer
The law is not obligated to inform you ahead of time if a search warrant is out for you or your property. Otherwise, this will only give truly guilty criminals ample time to hide any evidence and prepare themselves before the police arrive. It may seem like the warrant gives the officers complete jurisdiction and power to do whatever they want, but that could not be farther from the truth. As an American citizen, you have your constitutional rights. No police officer is allowed to abuse or harass you. If that happens to you or someone you know during a search, ask help from a criminal defense attorney immediately.