What You Need to Know About Search Warrants

Search warrants are judicial orders that authorize law enforcement officers to conduct a search at a specific place for specific objects or materials that they suspect are tied to a crime. Law enforcement must provide a judge with probable cause to issue a search warrant, and cannot conduct ancillary searches of other property not detailed in the search warrant.

For example, if the warrant says the search shall be conducted in the home of a suspect, the police cannot search in the backyard or another building on the property. If the warrant limits the search to weapons, officers cannot search for drug paraphernalia. However, if the police do find any evidence of a crime that is not detailed in the warrant, they may seize it.

If the warrant directs the search of a certain individual, only that person may be searched unless officers have independent probable cause to search others who may be at the location. A reasonable suspicion that someone on the premises may have a weapon can also lead an officer to conduct a frisk for weapons, but the officer cannot perform a full search.

There are certain circumstances where a search warrant is not required, including:

  • If an individual consents to a search of their person or property;
  • If evidence of a criminal activity is in plain view of the officer;
  • If the search is being conducted in connection with an arrest;
  • In an emergency situation, where the time it takes to get a warrant could jeopardize public safety or lead to the loss of important evidence;
  • If an officer encounters a suspect he or she believes is armed and dangerous, the officer may stop and frisk that individual for weapons.

Police are also allowed to make “protective sweeps” of property following the arrest of a suspect if they believe that someone else is hiding in the area that could be a danger to themselves or others.

The Cogdell Law Firm is a boutique law firm focusing on large, complex business and criminal financial-related litigation, including white collar criminal defense, securities fraud, health care fraud investigation, criminal appeals and state criminal defense. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244 or dan@cogdell-law.com.