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Police Search Warrants: Understand When Your Rights are Violated

The Law Firm of Andrea M. Kolski

Did you know that police officers get arrested about 1,000 times a year? And that over 40% of those alleged crimes happen on duty?

Police officers are sworn to uphold the law but there must also be accountability for their own misconduct. In order for that to happen, you must understand when officers cross the line and your rights are being violated.

If you are being searched, investigated, or prosecuted for an alleged crime, your rights may be at risk and you will need the knowledge and guidance of an expert. It’s important that you situate yourself to seek justice and take legal action to protect yourself.

Search Warrants

A search warrant authorizes police to search a specified place for evidence.

The language in search warrants needs to be within the scope of the search. Police officers may have violated your rights by conducting searches that are inconsistent with the language and purpose of the search warrant itself.

Police obtain a search warrant through a magistrate. Police convince the magistrate that they have probable cause to believe that criminal activity is occurring at the location on the affidavit.

When a search violates a suspect’s rights, it can be illegal. Any evidence found in an illegal search can be excluded from trial.

Probable Cause

The Fourth Amendment in the Constitution states that a search warrant is only legal with probable cause.

Probable cause means reasonable grounds for making a search or pressing a charge.

It is possible there was a lack of probable cause to allow for a search warrant.

Justification for probable cause occurs through a consideration of the totality of the circumstances shown in the search warrant.

Know Your Rights

If the police pull you over in your vehicle or show up at your residence asking to look around, you should always ask for identification and take note of their name and badge number. For a residential search, police must present a copy of the warrant to anyone at the place to be searched. If a warrant is not presented to you, ask the officer to present you with one.

The warrant should list several things, including:

  • where police can search
  • what police can look for
  • what police can seize
  • the specific crime believed to have been committed
  • the specific time the warrant was issued

Police also must execute their search within three days of the search warrant’s issuance by the magistrate.

Police must comply within the scope of the search warrant. They cannot legally search areas that are not listed in the warrant. They are only permitted to go anywhere that’s reasonably necessary to find items listed in the warrant.

If the police do not comply within the scope of the search warrant, your rights were likely violated and the evidence may have been illegally obtained.


Discrepancies between the language of a search warrant and the search process conducted by police may render the search illegal.

When it comes to evaluating the validity of a search warrant, time is an essential consideration. If the search warrant is basing its legality on an anonymous tip, there needs to be clear, specific information surrounding it, including:

  • when the officer received the tip
  • when the informer received information
  • when the conduct described in the affidavit took place

If these crucial details are not explicitly stated in the affidavit, the police violated your rights and the search is illegal. Under these circumstances, the affidavit is untimely and insufficient.

Another issue that can arise is the language used to describe the place being searched.

The language in the Fourth Amendment demands that the search be specific as to the place being searched.

Defense attorneys may find errors in how the premises or property to be searched is articulated in the affidavit’s language. If a search warrant fails to include statements clearly defining the place to be searched, the search warrant is invalid and illegal.

Warrantless Searches

It’s also possible that a search may be conducted without a warrant. The laws around warrantless searches are extremely complicated and dependent on the facts in each case. There are times warrantless searches are unconstitutional, making evidence inadmissible.

If you are charged with a crime based on a search with or without a warrant, you should seek the expertise of an experienced criminal defense attorney. If your lawyer can prove the search was illegal, your case may be dismissed and charges against you may be reduced or dropped.

Police may attempt to justify warrantless searches in many situations, including anonymous tips, driving observations, plain view, and your consent. Professional legal counsel can help you explore your defense options.

The Exclusionary Rule

Police face a penalty called the exclusionary rule if they conduct an illegal search. This rule stops evidence from entering trial if it was illegally obtained. This also includes any evidence found later on due to prior illegal searches.

Defendants may request that the court apply the exclusionary rule by filing a motion to suppress evidence. Simply put, this is a request that the court excludes any evidence that was illegally obtained.

If the motion is successful, then the evidence is illegally obtained and excluded.

Take Action

Evidence means everything in a criminal proceeding.

When search warrants violate a suspect’s rights, they may be illegal. In an illegal search, the evidence obtained may be dismissed along with any charges.

Laws are complex and the circumstances surrounding every case are unique. If you believe you experienced a violation of your rights, invest in a professional who can guide you through the legal process.

Connect with us to get started and let us assist you.

If you found any of these tips useful, please feel free to explore the rest of our site to learn more about the law and our services.

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