Regardless of public opinion, your affiliations, or your family members, the police cannot just show up to your door and demand to search your home. Prior to this, officers will need to obtain a search warrant before going into your property.
Here’s everything you need to know about it, from how long it takes to get a search warrant, to the process of obtaining what, and what you should know are your rights when being searched.
What Is a Search Warrant?
By law, a police officer cannot detain you or search your home without due cause. They must first seek approval from a judge or magistrate and obtain a warrant. This is a written order authorizing an officer to do things that would violate your Constitutional rights (like detain a person or search their home) without a warrant.
This means that, with a search warrant, police are allowed to enter your property (e.g. your home, a commercial building, your vehicle) and search for evidence they think might be there. This is different from an arrest warrant, which allows the police to detain you.
Prior to the American Revolution, the British government imposed a blanket general warrant over the Americans. A general warrant was very broad in nature and didn’t have many specifics. This meant that anyone could be arrested or searched even when there is no reason to suspect them. Fortunately, Americans today are protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which requires a warrant before a person’s property is searched.
How to Obtain a Search Warrant?
A search warrant overrides a person’s right to freedom and unreasonable searches. Therefore, there must be a good reason for an office to search a person’s property before obtaining a search warrant.
They must persuade a judge that, by searching a person’s property, they can find evidence that can help solve a specific crime. If the criminal case is weak, it may be more difficult to convince a judge. Otherwise, the judge issues a search warrant.
A search warrant must describe the specific location to be searched and the specific evidence the officer is looking for. A warrant must be extremely specific so that there is no room for loopholes or interpretation that allows an officer to abuse the warrant against a person.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Search Warrant?
How long it takes to obtain a search warrant depends on how quick an officer gets to a judge and convinces them that a warrant is necessary. This can takes minutes in special cases where time is of the essence and an officer can expedite their case, but it normally takes a few hours.
After obtaining a search warrant, they have to use it within 10 days after the warrant is issued. Unless stated otherwise, a search warrant can only be executed between 7AM and 10PM.
What To Do When Police Come Knocking
If a policeman comes to your door claiming to have a search warrant, the first thing you should do is go outside to meet them and then read the warrant. In most cases, they cannot enter without a warrant unless you consent to it (and if they don’t, it’s advisable that you don’t consent).
Review the warrant and make sure it has the following information stated. If a search warrant is missing any of the following requirements, it may not be valid.
- the name of the judge that issued the warrant;
- your identification
- the warrant’s issuing date;
- the description of the property;
- the description of the evidence being searched for; and
- the agency authorized to conduct the search.
When this happens, anything the police find during a search may not be admissible in court. They are also not allowed to enter your home without a warrant. If you refuse to have your property searched, your refusal cannot be grounds for a warrant: as long as they have just cause to search your property, they cannot do without a warrant.
What If Police Have a Search Warrant?
If police show up and issue a warrant, read it carefully. They cannot search the whole house if only a certain part of the property was specified.
They will also be looking for a specific piece of evidence that links to a certain crime, but if they find other evidence on another crime or any other illegal object, they will take it.
When a police officer believes your property may have evidence for a crime, unless time is a matter of the essence, it will take them possibly a few hours to obtain a search warrant.
Remember: you can refuse a search of your property if they do not have a warrant. If they do show up with a legitimate search warrant and you know they won’t find anything incriminating, it’s best to cooperate. If they do find anything that incriminates you, it’s best to contact a trial lawyer to properly defend you in a court of law.