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What makes a search warrant valid?

Whether it is at your home or during a traffic stop, being subject to a police search is never easy. In some cases, items could be collected by authorities with the intent to use them against you, resulting in unexpected criminal charges. Individuals in Minnesota and elsewhere should understand that just because police have evidence collected against them does not mean that evidence can be used. With regard to a drug crime, for example, if evidence was obtained through unlawful search and seizure, a defendant could use that information in a defense against the charges.

Many police searches require warrants. But, what makes a search warrant valid? If the Fourth Amendment applies to a search and seizure, which means an individual could reasonably expect privacy of their person or property under the circumstances, then a search warrant is needed. A search warrant is a written order that needs to be signed by a judge from the court that is authorizing a police officer to conduct a search, seizure or an arrest. And, without a valid warrant, any evidence collected is presumptively suppressed unless it is proven that the search and seizure were reasonable under the circumstances.

In order for a search warrant to be issued, a law enforcement officer must appear before a neutral judge and present facts and circumstances that prove there is probable cause that a crime is being or will be committed. Probable cause can be established though out-of-court statements that are made by reliable informants. However, probable cause can also be established through the affirmation of an officer on what they suspect or believe. In order for there to be probable cause, the facts used to support the warrant must be sworn by the officer as being true to the best of his or her knowledge.

Finally, a warrant is required to describe the person or place to be searched or seized. Enough details must be included so that an officer executing the warrant can properly ascertain what persons and places are identified in the warrant. Thus, if these details are not specific enough, a defendant could use this information to invalidate the warrant.

Those facing drug charges following a search and seizure by law enforcement should understand that they have rights and defense options. It is possible that a valid warrant wasn't executed or items not named in the warrant were collected. Thus, defendants should note their abilities to suppress evidence as a means to reduce or even dismiss the charges against them.

Source: Findlaw.com, "The Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement," Accessed July 16, 2017

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