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Search and Seizure

The Search Warrant Requirement

A SEARCH WARRANT is a judicially approved document that authorizes law enforcement officials to search a particular place. To obtain a search warrant, a police officer must provide an account of information supporting probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place or places. The officer must also make a list of the particular places to be searched and the items sought. Finally, the officer must swear to the truthfulness of the information. The officer presents the information in an AFFIDAVIT to a magistrate or judge, who determines whether to approve the warrant.

An officer may search only the places where items identified in the search warrant may be found. For example, if the only item sought is a snowmobile, the officer may not rummage through desk drawers. Only the items listed in the warrant may be seized, unless other evidence of illegal activity is in plain view. Judges or magistrates may approve a variety of types of searches. The removal of blood from a person's body, a search of body cavities, and even surgery may be approved for the gathering of evidence. ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE and phone records may also be used to gather evidence upon the issuance of a warrant.

A warrant is not required for a search incident to a lawful arrest, the seizure of items in plain view, a border search, a search effected in open fields, a vehicle search (except for the trunk), an inventory search of an impounded vehicle, and any search necessitated by exigent circumstances. It is also not required for a STOP AND FRISK, a limited search for weapons based on a reasonable suspicion that the subject has committed or is committing a crime. A police officer may also conduct a warrantless search if the subject consents.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Roberts v. United States Jaycees to Secretary of StateSearch and Seizure - Overview, State Action, Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy, Probable Cause And Reasonable Suspicion, Arrest And Miranda