A search warrant permits police to conduct a search of an area in an effort to find evidence of a crime. Judges may issue search warrants only if the police can show probable cause that there is criminal activity.
Under certain circumstances, police may execute a search without securing a search warrant first. In many situations, police may search automobiles without getting a warrant first.
If a defendant believes a search might have been illegal, the defendant can file a motion to suppress asking the judge to disregard any evidence found from the search. Winning a motion to suppress could be key to getting criminal charges dropped.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about search warrants in Nevada, including warrant requirements, refusing searches, and how to challenge warrants. Click on a topic to jump to that section:
- 1. What are search warrants?
- 2. Can police search without a warrant in Nevada?
- 3. Can I refuse to let police search my home?
- 4. Can I refuse to let the police search my car?
- 5. Can police frisk me without a warrant?
- 6. How do I challenge a search warrant in Nevada?
- 7. Can I read the search warrant?
1. What are search warrants?
A search warrant is a court-issued document authorizing police to enter a location and search it for evidence of a crime. A warrant includes an affidavit by police swearing that there is probable cause that a crime has occurred.
Warrants are supposed to specify the place(s) to be searched and the item(s) to be seized. Police may execute search warrants only between 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM unless the police can show the court good cause otherwise. Police have ten (10) days to execute a search warrant.1
2. Can police search without a warrant in Nevada?
It depends. In certain circumstances, police do not have to get a search warrant prior to conducting a lawful search. The following are common exceptions to the warrant rule:
- Hot pursuit: Police usually do not need to secure a search warrant if a suspected criminal flees the scene of a crime and the police have to enter another’s property in order to chase the suspect.
- Exigent circumstances: In emergency situations, police are usually allowed to conduct warrantless searches and seizures in Nevada. This applies even if the location is a person’s home.
- Consent: If someone freely and voluntarily consents to be searched, the police are not required to get a search warrant first. People are advised *never* to consent to a warrantless search.
- Traffic stops: If police stop a car for a traffic violation, they usually do not need a search warrant to then search the car if they have probable cause to suspect it is holding contraband or criminal evidence.
- Search incident to arrest: If someone gets arrested, the police may search his/her body and the immediate area. This is usually to search for weapons and to ensure everyone’s safety.2
3. Can I refuse to let police search my home?
Yes, if the officer does not have a valid search warrant and no “warrant exception” applies.
If the officer has a valid search warrant, then the person cannot refuse the search. If the person refuses to let the police in the home, the police may break in and use reasonable force against the person to execute the search.3
4. Can I refuse to let the police search my car?
Yes, but the police may go ahead and search the car anyway without a warrant as long as they have probable cause that the person is involved in a crime. This is called the “automobile exception” to the warrant requirement.
Typical examples of probable cause include the smell of marijuana, the sight of drugs, or the driver’s admission of guilt. Minor traffic violations such as a broken tail-light do not rise to the level of probable cause.4
5. Can police frisk me without a warrant?
Yes, as long as the police have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring (“reasonable suspicion” is a lower bar than “probable cause”). Police typically never get a warrant prior to conducting a frisk.5
6. How do I challenge a search warrant in Nevada?
The most common way is to file a pretrial motion called a motion to suppress evidence. A motion to suppress argues that the search was illegal, and it asks the judge to disregard any evidence found through the illegal search.
If the police had a search warrant, the motion to suppress would point out how the warrant was invalid. Common reasons for warrant invalidity are:
- the warrant was overbroad,
- the warrant did not include an affidavit, or
- the warrant suffered from another facial or procedural defect
If the police did not have a search warrant, the motion would point out that no “warrant exception” existed that permitted the police to conduct a search.
When a judge grants a motion to suppress and throws out the evidence, the prosecution’s case may be severely weakened. The prosecutor may even choose to dismiss the case if they no longer have sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.6
7. Can I read the search warrant?
Yes. The police are supposed to present the search warrant to the person whose property is being searched. But the police do not need to wait until the person reads it to begin searching.7
Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney…
If you have been charged with a crime in Nevada, phone our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers right away for a meeting to discuss your options. Depending on your case, we may be able to file a Las Vegas motion to suppress to show the police acted unlawfully and to get your case dropped.
In California? Go to our page on California search warrants.
In Colorado? Go to our page on Colorado search warrants.
- NRS 179.045; Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
- See State v. Lloyd, 129 Nev. Adv. Op. 79 (2013); State v. Camancho, 119 Nev. 395 (2003); Grace v. Eighth Judicial District Court, 132 Nev. Adv. Op. 51(2016); NRS 179.065.
- NRS 179.055.
- See State v. Lloyd, supra.
- See State v. Scott, 110 Nev. 622 (1994).
- NRS 179.085.
- NRS 179.075.