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Search warrants

I am fairly certain that most people are generally familiar with the term “search warrant” and know that it is something used by the police to conduct criminal investigations.

However, what probably isn’t well known is the precise definition of a search warrant, when one is required, what can be searched for and seized under the law, and the exceptions. So, to explain all of this and more, I present the following very brief summary.

A search warrant is a court order, which allows the police to search for and seize property or other criminal evidence from a specific location or from a person when probable cause has been established under oath.

We have search warrants because of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Probable cause” for a warrant consists of facts and circumstances, which would lead a reasonable person to believe that evidence of a crime or the contraband sought is in the place to be searched.

In support of the search warrant application, the judge must obtain a sworn statement and affidavit from the requesting police officer.

Michigan law allows for either an in-person oath and issuance or for the oath to be administered over the phone with the warrant being issued by electronic or electromagnetic means including a fax machine. Electronic signatures also are permitted.

There is a fairly long statutory list of what can be seized with a warrant, which can generally be described as evidence of a crime. In certain cases, a warrant can also be issued to seize and search a person.

There are a number of exceptions to the search warrant requirement. Among these are consent searches, evidence in plain view of a police officer, a search as part of an arrest, searches in emergencies to preserve evidence, coming to the aid of a person in trouble or in pursuit of a suspect, and when there is a stop and frisk.

I’ve barely scratched the surface here but can say without question that because of our Fourth Amendment protections search warrants will always be with us.

For more information on search warrants, an excellent place to start is “Search Warrant” at the Cornell Law School website — cornell.edu.

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