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What is a Search Warrant?

Thursday / June 27, 2013

It seems like the latest thing that I’m seeing a lot in my cases are search warrants. What exactly is a search warrant and how do you challenge a search warrant it? A search warrant is a court order that allows the police to be able to search or to take items related to a specific crime. Search warrants are commonly issued in DUI cases to try to obtain somebody’s blood when they refuse a chemical test, or during the typical criminal case when an individual is suspected to have contraband or some sort of item that the police are wanting to obtain.

Search warrants can be issued to search any number of things including a person’s vehicle, a person’s home, a person’s camper any sort of place where any sort of contraband could be found. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from having unlawful searches and seizures done on either their person or in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.  In those circumstances, police officers seeking to search those areas have to follow a few requirements for obtaining a warrant. The first requirement is that they must have probable cause that a crime is being or has been committed and the search warrant will help in the investigation. Once they feel they have probable cause they have to draft the search warrant and submitted to a judicial officer who will review it and decide whether or not to issue the warrant.  The language in the search warrant must be specific as to both the items sought and the location to be searched.  For example an officer who believes that there is drug paraphernalia located inside somebody’s home will draft a search warrant that would allow them to look in anyplace inside that home where drug paraphernalia could be found. This would include dresser drawers, bookshelves, or under mattresses. However if the police were searching for a stolen motorboat, the search warrant would have to be sufficiently specific as to where that motorboat would be looking and officers would not be able to search in an area where motorboat couldn’t be found, such as under a mattress.

As a defense attorney there a few ways that we can challenge the validity of a search warrant. The first by attacking the probable cause the officer had to seek the search warrant in the first place. If there was no probable cause than the warrant should not have issued and any contraband that may have been found would be considered fruit of the poisonous tree and inadmissible. The second way to challenge a search warrant is to demonstrate that it lacks specificity as to what it is looking for. The officer has to be narrow it down so that is just not an end-all be-all type of search looking for anything and everything that can be found. They have to be looking for specific items that they feel helped or are part of the commission of a crime. Additionally it is not uncommon for officers to find other items of contraband while they are conducting their initial search that are outside the scope of the initial search warrant. If this circumstance occurs the officer should stop the search get a new warrant before continuing to search. If the officer fails to do that there is the potential to challenge search on the grounds of that search was outside the scope of the warrant. In short search warrants are an investigative tool that officers use to obtain information.  However, it also becomes an additional avenue challenge a case in a court of law. If you were a loved one or friend has been charged with a criminal offense in the state of Arizona, feel free to give me a call to discuss your options at 480-331-7568 or you can reach me on my website at

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