“Police! Open up!” Those are the words that often are followed by people jumping out of windows, flushing evidence and running out the backdoor. To enter the residence, often a search warrant is required. Exceptions include the police being sure a crime is in progress or evidence is being destroyed.
So, the police have a search warrant. Now what? Search warrants are specific and there are ways that law enforcement can expand the scope of the search warrant on the spot. This decision is based upon factors and new information that is discovered during serving the warrant.
What is a search warrant?
A search warrant is a legal document issued by a judge or magistrate that gives law enforcement permission to search a person, vehicle or structure. The purpose of the search is to look for evidence that is believed to be present, based upon the warrant.
Does a warrant mean that police can search anywhere they want?
No. The search warrant will be very specific as to where the evidence is believed to be located. For example, “Based off of confidential informant testimony, we believe there to be drugs concealed in the bathroom toilet tank.” Law enforcement is not legally allowed to search other parts of the residence that are not specified in the warranty.
3 justifications used to expand a search beyond the search warrant
The following are three reasons that law enforcement can use to legally increase the powers of an existing search warrant without being guilty of “illegal search and seizure.”
- Safety: Police can search all areas that are necessary to ensure that everyone is safe. This is a broad power of discretion that leaves many claiming, “illegal search and seizure.” However, it is well within the rights of law enforcement to use this justification for expanding the search beyond the scope of the search warrant.
- Destruction of evidence: If law enforcement believes or has suspicion that someone is destroying evidence somewhere in the building, they can be justified to search everywhere that is necessary.
- Additional evidence: If the police see illegal items or contraband in plain view in another room or area that is not specifically included in the search warrant, they can expand the search based upon the new evidence.
Law enforcement may amplify the search warrant based upon situations that they can testify that warranted the increase in power. These wide-sweeping abilities to expand the warrant upon discretion and will means that it is exceedingly difficult to prove claims of illegal search and seizure.
These complicated and confusing areas of criminal law often require the helpfulness of legal counsel that is experienced in building a strong criminal defense after being served a search warrant.