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What to look for on a search warrant to determine validity

Some police officers are standing at your front door. They say they are here to search your home and they present you with a warrant. How do you know the search warrant really gives them the power to search your home?

What to look for on the search warrant

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution generally requires law enforcement to obtain a valid search warrant before searching someone’s home or other private property. The warrant must follow the following rules:

  • It must be issued and signed by a neutral judge or other magistrate
  • It must be based on information showing probable cause that the premises contains evidence of a crime
  • The police officer who filed for the warrant must have done so in good faith, i.e., they honestly believed that a search was necessary and justified
  • The warrant must specifically describe the place to be searched. It must contain the correct address, and if the premises is an apartment or hotel room, the room or unit number
  • It must describe “with particularity” the items the police believe are inside the premises that they want to seize

If there are errors on the warrant, you might not be able to stop the police from searching your home. After all, they are the ones with the guns and the power to arrest you. But if you do get charged with a crime, you can argue to the judge that the warrant was invalid and violated your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. If the judge agrees, they could toss out some or all of the evidence seized during the search as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” This legal term means that the results of an illegal police search generally cannot be admitted into evidence.



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