Search warrants can be issued to aid police or law enforcement in a criminal investigation. Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, citizens are protected from unlawful searches and seizures as they are an invasion of privacy. The law includes a caveat that a warrant can be issued if probable cause is apparent. Search and seizure laws can vary depending on the jurisdiction you are in. For skilled legal help contact a Pottstown criminal defense lawyer.

What is the Purpose of a Warrant?

A warrant is a legal document that gives law enforcement officers special permission to act in somewhat disregard to the Fourth Amendment. If there is probable cause to believe that a person or place is involved in some criminal activity or illegal ploy, the police may request a warrant to search the premises whether it be a person’s home or car, or a building or other structure. This sort of invasion of privacy would be illegal, but the warrant waives that portion of the law temporarily to allow law enforcement to gather evidence.

A warrant allows officers to search for particular materials and evidence at a specific time and location. Law enforcement must abide by the rules of the warrant.

Who Can Authorize a Warrant?

Warrants can only be authorized by either a judge or a magistrate. A judge presides over trials and issues rulings in a court. They are the highest level of authority that can be present in a court of law and can interpret laws and make rulings.

A magistrate is an authority in court who can also make rulings but on select cases. They hear pre-trial motions, oversee jury selections, and more.

Both of these authorities have the power to issue a warrant given that they believe there is enough evidence to suggest probable cause.

What’s the Definition of Probable Cause?

While probable cause is mentioned in the Fourth Amendment, it is not clearly defined. It is up to the law enforcement officers involved to collect enough evidence to compel a reasonable person to believe that illegal activity has happened, is happening, or will happen. They will then take this evidence to a judge or magistrate and request a warrant based on the provided information.

Probable cause should be determined by examining evidence including:

  • Eyewitness testimony
  • Tangible evidence like photographs, video surveillance, drugs, weapons, etc.
  • Keen observations

If the evidence came from a police informant who has been reliable in the past, has extensive knowledge of the situation, or who implicates themselves, a judge may deem the evidence valid. Information from victims or witnesses of the crime could also be considered reliable.

The judge or magistrate may require additional evidence and more specific information to convince them that a warrant is truly needed. If the legal authorities are convinced, they may issue the warrant and allow the police to continue their investigation by searching or arresting a person or location.