At Schneider Freiberger, P.C., we are experts in search and seizure issues, having argued critically important claims in front of the Supreme Court. We can help you understand your rights and options, and defend you if you are facing charges following a search.
What Is a Search Warrant?
When it comes to searches carried out by the police, the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable or unlawful searches of you or your property. In most cases, in order to conduct a search and seizure, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant. A search warrant is a document signed by a judge or magistrate that empowers law enforcement officers to search a particular location and seize specific items. In order to receive a search warrant, the following must generally occur:
- Good Faith – The warrant must be filed by law enforcement in “good faith.”
- Probable Cause – The judge or magistrate must be shown probable cause to conduct the search based on reliable information.
- Neutrality – The judge or magistrate must be neutral, which means they are detached from law enforcement.
- Details of the Search – The time, place and items to be seized must be specified by the police.
Once the judge or magistrate determines that there are sufficient grounds to conduct a search, the warrant will be signed and the police may execute the search.
Execution of a Search Warrant
The police must follow certain steps when executing a search warrant. These steps are as follows:
- The police must knock and announce their presence before they can enter a location, unless they have received a “no knock” warrant.
- Police can then enter the premises and go about locating the persons who are named in the warrant so that they may be searched or arrested. If a person is not named in the warrant then in most circumstances they may not be arrested or searched.
- After this, the police will then explain to those individuals who were arrested or searched of the specifics of the warrant and provide them with a copy.
- Miranda warnings must be read to the appropriate individuals.
- After the warnings, the police will then proceed with any search enabled by the warrant.
- An inventory of all items seized as evidence should then be prepared by the officers involved in the search.
If any of the above steps are not followed, the search and any evidence obtained may be deemed illegal. If you have been the target of a search warrant and you feel the police have not followed the proper procedures, then it may be time to contact a criminal defense attorney in order to argue that the search was unlawful and the evidence should be thrown out.
There are certain circumstances in which a search without a warrant can legally take place. Common exceptions to the requirement to have a search warrant include:
- Consent – If a person freely and voluntarily gives the police consent to search themselves or the premises, the police are not required to get a search warrant.
- Lawful Arrest – While conducting a lawful arrest, the arresting officer may search the person they are arresting and their immediate surroundings for weapons or other potentially harmful items. This can also be extended to a vehicle if the arrest happened in or near the vehicle.
- Exigent Circumstances – If the police believe that evidence may be destroyed or others may be put in harm’s way within the time it would take to obtain the warrant, then the police may act without a warrant.
- Hot Pursuit – Police may enter private property if they are in hot pursuit of a fleeing criminal. Once inside the property, the officers may search the area without a search warrant.
- Plain View – If an officer is on a premises lawfully, they may seize evidence without a search warrant if the evidence is found within plain view.
- No Privacy Protection – If the evidence is found in an area with no privacy protection then it may be obtained lawfully without a search warrant.
- Automobile Exception – A police officer may search a vehicle if they have a reason to believe that there is contraband within the vehicle.
If the police conducted a search without a warrant but the situation did not allow for a warrantless search, it is imperative you contact an attorney to help you argue your case and get the search deemed unlawful.
Have You Been the Target of a Search Warrant?
If you or a loved one has found themselves charged with a crime following a search, or you believe you have been searched in an illegal manner, you will want an experienced lawyer by your side. At Schneider Freiberger, P.C., we have the expertise to fight against unlawful searches or help defend you against charges brought about as a result of a search and seizure.