Search Warrants: What They Are and How Police Obtain Them

What Are Search Warrants?If you have been charged with a crime, the police may have searched your home, car, or other property based on a search warrant. Evidence may have been obtained that can help the prosecution prove that you are guilty of the crime you are being charged with. However, you cannot assume that the search warrant-or its execution-was proper. If it was not, you may be able to suppress the evidence seized. If this evidence was vital to proving the charges against you, the charges against you might be dismissed.

What Is a Search Warrant?

A search warrant is an order signed by a judge or magistrate authorizing police officers to search for specific items at a definite location. You have certain constitutional rights under the U.S. and South Dakota Constitutions against unreasonable searches and seizures of your property. Some of these rights include the following:

  • That a warrant be issued before the police search or seize your property
  • That any search or seizure be reasonable
  • That the search warrant be based on probable cause
  • That the warrant be supported by an oath or affirmation
  • That the warrant specifically identifies the place to be searched and the people and/or property to be seized

How Do Police Get Search Warrants?

A judge or magistrate must be convinced that there is probable cause to believe that criminal activity is occurring at the place to be searched or that the location contains evidence of a crime. In South Dakota, magistrates are allowed to sign search warrants. The police officer asks for a search warrant in a legal document called an Affidavit where he gives written statements under oath that describe his observations and the observations of other witnesses or police informants relevant to the search or seizure. If the magistrate believes that probable cause has been established, he will issue the warrant-without any hearing.

What Can the Police Search and Seize Based on a Search Warrant?

The police can only search the location stated in the warrant. For example, if the warrant authorizes the search of a person's garage, the warrant would not allow the police to search the person's home. However, the police may seize other items they find in their search other than those listed in the warrant.

Similarly, if the warrant allows the officer to search a specific person, he cannot search another person who happens to be there. There are a number of exceptions that allow the police to search and seize without a warrant, such as if you consent to the search or evidence is in plain view.

An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to identify any challenges to the search and seizure of evidence in your case. If you have been charged with a crime, start an online chat to schedule a free consultation to get your questions answered and learn what you can realistically expect in your criminal case.

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