When police show up at someone’s home or office to conduct a search, they typically don’t call ahead. The element of surprise is important so that those suspected of a crime don’t have time to get rid of evidence.
If you’re ever the one with law enforcement at your door and you’re presented with a search warrant, it’s only normal to feel shocked. This can make it difficult to read and comprehend the warrant, which you have a right to review.
Law enforcement and prosecutors need to have “probable cause” that evidence of a crime will be found at the location for a judge to sign the warrant. That judge’s signature should be on the warrant. You should also look at the following required information.
Make sure the address is yours. Too often, police show up at a previous address of the person they’re focused on. Confirm that they have the correct address. If there are names listed, make sure that yours (or someone else’s who lives there) is one of them.
Areas to be searched and items that can be seized
Some warrants specify what rooms or parts of the property can be searched for evidence of a crime. Others allow the entire home (perhaps indoors and outdoors) to be searched. You have a right to make sure the officers are complying with that as long as you don’t interfere with their work or harass them. Use this time to seek legal guidance or ask someone else to.
Items that can be seized
Generally, anything found in the areas authorized for search that appears to be evidence of criminal activity can be taken. Officers are also allowed to seize anything in “plain view” even if it’s not included in the warrant as long as it’s someplace they have a right to be and they have reason to believe it is evidence. “Plain view” means they can easily see it without looking. An obvious example would be a backpack on the floor of the entryway with what appears to be wads of $100 bills or bags of drugs spilling out from it.
If a search and seizure operation isn’t conducted legally, some or all of the evidence found can potentially be unusable in any case against you. That’s why it’s crucial to understand and protect your rights.