Law enforcement officers are often shown on TV and in movies entering a home or business with a search warrant in hand. Many people are familiar with scenes like these, but few understand exactly what a search warrant is and when it is necessary for law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant.
When will the police need a search warrant? When can they conduct a search without a warrant? How can a Tampa criminal defense attorney help you protect your constitutional rights? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.
What is A Search Warrant?
A search warrant is a legal document that authorizes law enforcement officers to conduct a search of a specific location. To obtain a search warrant, the police must submit a written affidavit to a judge. This written affidavit must establish why the police have probable cause to believe that criminal activity is taking place at the specific location or evidence of criminal activity can be found at that specific location.
The judge will review the evidence outlined in the affidavit to determine if the police have actually established probable cause. If probable cause has not been established, the judge will not sign the warrant. But if it has, the judge will sign the warrant, which means the police can move forward with their search.
Where Can the Police Search?
The search warrant will only authorize the police to conduct a search of a specific location that is described in the document. If a police officer shows up at your door with a warrant, it’s important to read it to see where they are allowed to search.
For example, if the warrant states that the police are allowed to search your backyard, this means they cannot search your home. The inside of your home is not a part of your backyard, so if it’s not included in the warrant, they are not authorized to search it.
When Can the Police Conduct Warrantless Searches?
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means the police will need to obtain a search warrant in order to conduct a search in most situations. But there are several exceptions to this rule.
The police will not need to obtain a search warrant if the owner of the premises or person in control of the premises has given them permission to conduct the search.
For example, say the police show up at your door and ask if they can search your home. If you say yes and let them inside to conduct a search, they will not need to get a warrant to move forward. This is true regardless of whether or not they informed you that you have the right to say no.
There is also a “plain view” exception that allows the police to conduct searches and seizures of evidence that is in “plain view.”
For example, say you are pulled over by a police officer for running a red light. As the police officer talks to you through the driver’s window of your vehicle, he notices a bag of controlled substances sitting on the passenger seat. In this case, the police officer would be able to seize the evidence without a warrant since it was sitting in plain view of where he was legally standing at the time.
Police also don’t need a search warrant to conduct a search “incident to” an arrest. This means if an officer arrests you, they have the right to conduct a search of your person and the area immediately surrounding you without a search warrant.
For example, say you are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). After your arrest, the police officer searches your person and finds controlled substances in your pocket. This evidence can be seized and used against you.
Finally, there is the “emergency” exception to the search warrant requirement. The police are allowed to conduct warrantless searches and seizures if the time that it would take to obtain a warrant would put the public’s safety in jeopardy or lead to the loss of crucial evidence.
For example, say an officer arrests someone on drug charges. As he is making the arrest, he hears someone inside the house yell something about flushing the remaining drugs down the toilet. In this situation, the officer may enter the home to conduct a search and seizure without going through the process of obtaining a search warrant. This is because the officer has reason to believe that waiting to get a warrant would lead to the loss of crucial evidence in the case.
What Happens If the Police Conduct An Illegal Search?
If you have been charged with a crime, your attorney will review your case to determine if any evidence was gathered during an illegal search.
The police are not allowed to violate your constitutional rights to legal searches and seizures. If they conduct an illegal search, any evidence that was seized during this search is inadmissible. In other words, the state cannot use evidence collected during an illegal search to convict you of a crime. This evidence must be thrown out, which could significantly weaken the state’s case against you.
Discuss Your Case With Our Criminal Defense Attorneys Today
Are you facing criminal charges in the greater Tampa Bay area? Don’t fight these charges without help from an experienced criminal defense attorney at Carlson Meissner Hart & Hayslett. Our team of criminal defense lawyers has over 125 years of combined legal experience. We have represented over 15,000 clients in criminal cases. In each case, we work tirelessly to protect our clients’ rights and fight for their freedom. We have the experience, resources, and knowledge that it takes to win.
Now, let us help you. Call our law firm today to schedule a free consultation regarding your criminal case.