After a Search Warrant: The First Thing You Should Do
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives people the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…” This means that police cannot simply raid your home-they must have a search warrant. What you may not realize is that you have rights even after a search warrant has been executed. If you are served with a search warrant, keep these things in mind.
#1. Ask to see the search warrant
The concept of privacy as spelled out in the Fourth Amendment requires police to search only as much as absolutely necessary to obtain evidence. Accordingly, search warrants are very precise in nature. They are limited to a specific location such as “the house”, and spell out exactly what type of contraband police are able to search for.
By reading the search warrant, you will already know what areas police are limited to. That way, you can avoid giving verbal permission for them to search in any other places. Be advised that the type of contraband they are looking for can also affect where they search. For example, if police are looking for a stolen vehicle they may not search a closet since an automobile would not fit into that space.
Keep in mind that there are certain instances in which an officer can legally go beyond the boundaries spelled out in the search warrant. For example, if an item is in plain view it can be seized even if it is not specifically listed on the search warrant. Under exigent circumstances, police may seize items if they reasonably believe they might be destroyed.
#2. Remain Calm
Having a search warrant served on you is typically a very nerve-racking experience. You might even be handcuffed and separated from family members during the process. Although you are stressed, it is very important to remain calm. Avoid making any statements that could be construed as an admission of guilt. And do not under any circumstances threaten police officers-not even if you see them mishandling some of your most prized possessions.
#3. Record the process
Criminal charges are often dropped when a judge determines that officers illegally obtained evidence. The “fruits of the poisonous tree doctrine” claims that any evidence that derives from an illegal source (the tree) is also poisonous and therefore cannot be used. What is the best way to prove that evidence has been tainted? To record the process.
Recording the search will likely be impossible if you are handcuffed; however, you might be able to take a few pictures or even scribble some notes. If you are not able to record the search, take photographs as soon as police leave and then document your account of the events in writing while it is still fresh in your mind.
#4. Don’t admit to anything
Officers may try to question you while the search is ongoing. They might also come to you claiming to have found certain evidence and asking whether it belongs to another family member. You might even be threatened with an arrest if you fail to cooperate.
It’s important to note that officers may or may not actually have the evidence they purport. As such, you will need to use your best judgment when deciding whether or not to squeal on another person or answer questions about their activities.
#5. Contact an attorney
When a search warrant yields contraband, this usually leads to an arrest. Sometimes that arrest comes on the spot, while in other cases it may happen days or weeks later. And just because law enforcement did not find illegal items does not mean they are finished with you. It likely means they will just regroup and then request another search warrant later.
The best way to protect yourself in either instance is to contact an attorney. A criminal defense lawyer can help you defend your rights and ensure you remain innocent until proven guilty.