When may search warrants be legally executed?

On behalf of Law Office of Steven Haney posted in Criminal Defense on Friday, February 28, 2014

A major aim of the criminal justice system is to balance public safety with the privacy rights of anyone who may be accused of criminal wrongdoing. The two priorities within this greater aim tend to bump up against each other in potentially frustrating ways when law enforcement officers wish to search the body, car, home or other property of a person they suspect of engaging in criminal activity.

The primary check that criminal law places on law enforcement officers seeking evidence is that most searches must be conducted only after a legally valid warrant has been executed. If no warrant is executed or if a warrant is not executed properly, a criminal defendant may seek to have the evidence gathered during the search excluded from the case against him or her.

In order for a warrant to be properly and legally executed, law enforcement officers must generally possess probable cause as defined by the law. In essence, this means that officers must have reason to believe that evidence of a crime will be found on the body or property to be searched. Officers must not simply follow any “hunch” they might have. They must have reasonable and legitimate grounds to believe that they will find evidence based on interviews or other evidence that has led them to need to search a particular person or place.

The warrant itself must also be specific. In general, law enforcement officers are only allowed to search the areas specified on the warrant and must generally only confiscate specific evidence that is being looked for as outlined by the warrant.

Source: Findlaw Blotter, “What Evidence Is Needed for a Search Warrant?” Jenny Tsay, Feb. 11, 2014