Search Warrants: The Police Need Special Permission to Sift Through Your Property

The U.S. Constitution contains very specific language concerning the restriction of governmental power. In the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the authors of the Constitution created several prohibitions against unreasonable searches of private citizens and their property.

The Fourth Amendment also forbids government seizure of private property without a valid reason. This rule is most frequently applied to evidence gathering. These protections are designed to preserve the individual’s right to privacy and to mandate the due process of law.

Warrants are Necessary for Lawful Searches

One of the primary provisions of this amendment requires that judicial powers and law enforcement obtain a search warrant before conducting any investigations of a person or that person’s property. Furthermore, search warrants can only be issued after probable cause is established. An officer of the law must swear to the validity of the warrant after making certain that it refers to specific people, places and things.

In order to obtain a search warrant in Texas, a law enforcement officer must present evidence sufficient to establish probable cause to a court of law. Sometimes, it is not practical for an officer to present their evidence to a judge. In cases like this, the officer may obtain a search warrant from a magistrate of the court. Magistrates are court officials who are permitted to perform certain judiciary duties because they are considered neutral and detached.

The Elements of a Search Warrant

If the law enforcement officer can demonstrate probable cause to the judge or magistrate, a warrant will be issued. The warrant must specify the owner of the property to be searched and the physical address of the property. Also, the warrant will state what the officers are allowed to search for and the time in which the search must be conducted.

What is a ‘Reasonable’ Search?

A search warrant is needed whenever law enforcement wants to conduct a search or seizure. The interpretation of the Fourth Amendment defines “unreasonable” searches and seizures as those that are carried out without the approval of the court in the form of a search warrant. For a search to be considered reasonable, a warrant is almost always necessary. This rule protects private citizens from frivolous, unnecessary or harassing searches.

The Exclusionary Rule

The search warrant requirement is enforced by a provision called the exclusionary rule. This rule states that any evidence gathered during an unwarranted search or seizure cannot be used in court to prosecute the owner of the property. There are specific times when law enforcement can conduct a search without a warrant. A person can consent to an unwarranted search if they wish. Also, officers can conduct searches of a person being arrested or a person passing through an airport or national borders. A vehicle search does not require a warrant if the evidence is in plain view or if the vehicle is being impounded.

To learn more about the use and issuance of search warrants, contact The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp today at 713-868-6100.