search warrant | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Policing / Procedural Law

A search warrant is a legal document issued by a judge or magistrate authorizing law enforcement officers to search a specific location for evidence of a crime.

A search warrant is a legal tool that allows law enforcement officers to enter and search a specific location, such as a person’s home, car, or business, for evidence of a crime. In order to obtain a search warrant, law enforcement officers must present a sworn affidavit to a judge or magistrate, outlining the probable cause for the search and the specific location to be searched.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that search warrants be supported by probable cause and that they describe with particularity the place to be searched and the things to be seized. This means that a search warrant must provide specific details about the location to be searched and the items or evidence that law enforcement officers are looking for.

Once a search warrant is issued, law enforcement officers are authorized to enter and search the specified location for the evidence or items outlined in the warrant. They may also seize any other evidence or items that they come across during the search that are connected to the crime being investigated.

It is important to note that there are some exceptions to the requirement for a search warrant. For example, law enforcement officers may conduct a search without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime is in plain view, if they are in hot pursuit of a suspect, or if there are exigent circumstances that require immediate action.

However, in most cases, law enforcement officers must obtain a search warrant before conducting a search. Failure to do so can result in any evidence obtained during the search being excluded from court proceedings, as well as potential legal and ethical violations.

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Last Modified: 03/14/2023


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