Understanding Search Warrants

Understanding Search Warrants

One of the fundamental rights of those living in Alabama, or anywhere in the United States, is that of private property. Nobody has the right to search through your property without your permission. Even the police are generally prohibited from this type of action unless they get a search warrant first. Understanding what a search warrant is and when they are required will help you protect your legal rights when engaging with the police.

 What Is a Search Warrant?

A search warrant is a legal document that is signed, typically by a judge, granting law enforcement officers the right to search someone’s person or property without their consent. The judge who signs this warrant is supposed to be a neutral third party who looks at the facts and evidence of the situation, and only signs the warrant if there is just cause. When the police ask the judge for a search warrant, they will need to include information such as:


  • Description of the Location – A description of the location to be searched is required. If it is a home or apartment, the address will usually be sufficient. If it is a vehicle, the license plate number, VIN, or physical description is enough.
  • Timeline – Determining when the search warrant will be executed is important. In general, police will have about two weeks to use the warrant, though typically they execute the warrant much more quickly.
  • Facts Establishing Probable Cause – The law enforcement officers need to give the judge the facts that establish probable cause for searching the property. This can include testimonies of witnesses, physical evidence, and more.
  • Scope of the Warrant – This will identify what it is the police will be looking for when executing a search warrant. It could be a weapon, drugs, documents, or anything else needed in an investigation.


Executing a Search Warrant

Once the judge signs a search warrant, the police will have to execute it. This means they will take the warrant to the location identified and perform the necessary search. The owner of the property will be presented with the warrant showing that the police have the legal right to search the property.

 One point that many people aren’t aware of when it comes to executing search warrants is that the police are restricted to searching for what the warrant identifies. For example, if the police are searching for a large stolen sculpture, they can’t search in a desk drawer where it clearly would not fit. If the police do search places that go beyond the scope of the warrant, anything they find will likely be thrown out as evidence in a trial.

 Contact an Attorney Right Away

If the police have searched your property (with or without a warrant) it is important to contact an attorney right away. We can go through exactly what happened to help identify any instances where they have violated your legal rights. This will also provide an opportunity to begin preparing a strong defense against whatever charges have, or may be, filed against you. Contact the Law Offices of John M. Totten to get started now.

John M. Totten