A search warrant is a court order that gives police the right to enter a premises and seize any objects found that are named in the warrant. This warrant is obtained when the police determine that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. Citizens are protected from warrantless search and seizure under the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution. There are exceptions to this rule, however.
Types of Warrants
There are three basic types of warrants. A bench warrant is probably the most common. This type of warrant is issued when a defendant misses a court hearing. An arrest warrant is issued if the prosecutor had probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime, and that you may be a danger to the community and/or the likelihood of you appearing in court on your own is small.
A search warrant is issued when there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. There are definitive rules to how these warrants are issued and why. It is important to always consult with a Nevada criminal attorney if you have received a search warrant. If the rules regarding the issuance or execution of the warrant have not been followed, the evidence that was obtained cannot be used against you in court.
Exceptions to Search Warrants
There are times when law enforcement is able to search you or your premises without a warrant. These include:
Consent: If you freely give your consent, a valid search may take place.
Incident to Arrest: If you are being arrested, the police are able to search your body and immediate surrounding area.
Plain View: If an item is in plain view of police, and they have probable cause to believe the item is connected to a crime, they are able to seize it.
Inspections: There is not a requirement for a warrant in the case of sobriety checkpoints, airport security, border searches, and health inspections.
Exigent Circumstances: If there is an immediate situation where evidence could be lost, destroyed or a crime is in progress, the police may exercise their power of search and seizure.
Automobiles: The police are able to search your vehicle if they believe that a crime has been committed. This exception is valid because people have a limited expectation of privacy compared with their home, for example.
No Expectation of Privacy: If there is no expectation of privacy, 4th amendment protections do not apply. Examples of this would be an abandoned car or home.
Learn more in our article on California search and seizure laws. For information about cell phone searches, see our article on whether police may search a cell phone following an arrest in California. And for information on car searches, see our article on whether police may search a car in California without a warrant.