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When are Search Warrants Valid? When are They Not?

Written by Moses & Rooth on August 9, 2014

The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable and unlawful searches and seizures of their persons, homes, businesses and property. One practical Fourth Amendment check on law enforcement generally requires officers to obtain search warrants before they may lawfully search or seize a person’s property over the person’s objections. Given how critical evidence gathering can be to dismissal or conviction of criminal charges, Americans should be acutely aware of whether or not they are being searched with a lawful or unlawful warrant.

Examples of Things the Fourth Amendment Protects

  • Clothes you are wearing
  • Purse or backpack
  • Luggage
  • Vehicle
  • Home
  • Apartment
  • Hotel room
  • Business
  • Storage

If warrants are not legally valid, two consequences may generally follow their execution. First, Americans may sometimes decline to submit to a search if a warrant authorizing the search is not legally valid. If a search has already occurred due to a legally invalid warrant, the evidence gathered during that search may be suppressed during the prosecution process.

How can you know with any certainty whether or not a search warrant is valid? First, a magistrate must have signed the warrant. Second, the warrant must contain a description of what places are authorized for search. Sometimes an entire building may be searched and sometimes only a small sub-unit of a given building may be legally searched. Valid warrants set up boundaries for lawful search. Finally, the items being searched for must be particularly outlined in the warrant and generally must be strictly adhered to unless unlawful contraband is within plain sight of the officers.

Because the law of search and seizure has various exceptions to the warrant rule, any American in doubt of whether or not a search is lawful should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Simply refusing to submit to a search without counsel can be considered resisting a search and land you in jail.

Source: Findlaw Blotter, “Valid Search Warrant? 3 Things to Look For,” Aditi Mukherji, July 30, 2013

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