If you’re caught off-guard by law enforcement showing up at your door with a search warrant, you’re likely too stunned to read and comprehend it when they hand you a copy. You assume it’s legally valid and that they’re following it, but how do you know?
Before we get into what to look for in a search warrant, it’s important to know that lying about information that provides the probable cause needed for a warrant can not only get an officer fired. It can get them charged with a crime. We’re seeing that with one officer who was involved in the drafting of the search warrant that led to the killing of Breonna Taylor.
If you believe you may be under criminal investigation or that law enforcement may be showing up at your home or office with a search warrant, here’s what you need to look for if they do:
A magistrate’s signature
A magistrate is typically a judge. It always has to be someone considered impartial in the case and not part of law enforcement.
Specific location(s) that can be searched
Typically, warrants are written to include all areas of a location where evidence is believed to be located. It likely won’t specify rooms – particularly in a single-family home. If it’s an apartment, condo or office, it’s crucial to make sure the right location is listed on the warrant. Police have been known to show up at the wrong home either because faulty information was provided or they misread the warrant. It’s important to determine whether it includes any outside areas on the property.
What items can be seized
How broad this description is depends on what they’re looking for. It may include all computers, electronic tablets and phones, for example, as well as flash drives. It may include paper files. Officers can also seize anything that’s in “plain view” even if it’s not included in the warrant. If they have a warrant to seize someone’s electronics, but they find a bag of illegal drugs on the desk, they can take that.
While it’s crucial to review the search warrant, you need to be cautious about how much you dispute it with the officers. You don’t want to face arrest for interfering with a legal search. Your best move, regardless of whether you think the warrant and search were lawful or not, is to seek legal guidance immediately and to remember your right to remain silent until you get that guidance.