Warrants in California

If a warrant has been issued for you or a member of your family, you, or your property, could be subject to search and/or seizure.

The Fourth Amendment provides as follows:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The Fourth Amendment protects persons, houses, papers, and effects from unreasonable search or seizure unless the government has a warrant. Importantly, this means that if the government, or an agent of government e.g. a police officer, has a warrant, they are legally allowed to seize a person, and even conduct an unreasonable search. The only check on that power is that the warrant must be issued by a neutral magistrate that finds probable cause that a crime has been committed, that evidence of a crime will be discovered, and/or the person to be seized committed a crime.

If you or a member of your family has warrant out for them, consult a licensed criminal defense attorney.

What is Probable Cause?

This question plagues law students, lawyers, police officers, judges, and citizens on a daily basis. In short, probable cause can be less than a 50% chance, but more than mere reasonable suspicion. Unfortunately, that is as clear as it gets. It is a highly fact based analysis that is seen from the eyes of an imaginary “reasonable law enforcement officer” using all of the training and experience that comes with the position. If a police officer, based on his training and experience, believes that there is sufficient evidence of a crime, they can approach a judge and try to meet the standard of probable cause to get a warrant.

Example: Peter, a police officer, encounters Ivan, a reliable informant that he has worked with in the past on cases related to drug sales. Ivan tells Peter that Dave has been getting a shipment of heroin transported to his house in a green bag every Wednesday for the last 2 years. Furthermore, Ivan tells Peter that every Wednesday night, after the heroin has been delivered to David and broken down into smaller amounts, low-level drug dealers come to buy drugs to sell on their turf.

Using this information, Peter watches David’s house for an entire month and has observed the green bag deliveries. Peter has also observed multiple people arriving on Wednesday nights and then leaving shortly after. After busting a few of those visitors, Peter finds heroin in their pockets. Peter will likely be able to obtain a warrant from a judge to search David’s house and any place inside the home that could conceal heroin.

As you can see, warrants can be issued even if the officer did not witness the commission of a crime. Law enforcement in the example above did not witness a single drug transaction, and never saw drugs inside the house. However, combining the tip from a previously reliable source, testing the tip with observation, and gaining corroborating evidence by busting the low level drug dealer, is likely enough to get a warrant to search the house and to arrest Dave. The warrant issued will spell out who or what is to be searched, and what people or items are to be seized, in this case heroin and other evidence related to heroin sales.

Warrants typically cannot be served on a residence at night and must be preceded by a knock and an announcement that law enforcement has a warrant. However, in many cases permission can be obtained from a judge for no-knock warrant or for permission to serve the warrant at night. In such an instance the police can use a battering ram to break down the door of a residence at night to search and seize people or things.

Warrants are Not Invincible

Just because law enforcement has a warrant does not mean everything they collect can be used against you. If law enforcement fabricated evidence, or the judge reviewing the evidence before the issuance of a warrant abandoned their role as a neutral gatekeeper, the evidence obtained with the warrant may be suppressed.

It may also be the case that law enforcement obtained a valid warrant but used it improperly. When a warrant is issued it tells officers where they can search and what they can look for. For example, if officers search your home to look for a stolen television, they generally cannot begin ripping out the walls and searching inside your drawers, even if that improper search yields evidence of a crime.

If a warrant has been served at your residence, or against someone you know, contact a licensed criminal defense attorney to learn what remedies may be available.

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