Law Enforcement/Procedures/Search Warrants

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Search warrants are authorizations issued by a judge or magistrate that allow police officers to search a place for some specified items. Warrants are usually (but not always) drafted by a detective, who prepares the warrant (a document listing the place to be searched and the items sought) and an affidavit (a document laying out the reason why the detective wants to do the search.) The detective then goes to a judge -- after hours, there is usually a judge on call -- and the judge reviews the affidavit and then issues the search warrant if the affidavit establishes a good reason for the search.

The warrant needs to be specific. It needs to lay out a location to be searched, which can be an address '122 N. Maple' or something more general 'John Smith's 1992 Honda Civic' or 'The cellular telephone recovered from John Smith on the evening of October 3, 2013.' Locations can sometimes be non-physical things, like computers, cellphones, or financial records. The warrant also needs to lay out the things that are being looked for, like 'Guns' or 'Pictures of the crime', though often officers are very general, saying that they are searching for 'Firearms, other contraband, and other evidence of crime' or something like that.

The affidavit attached to the search warrant has to lay out 'probable cause' for the search -- IE, a good reason the officer has to believe that the search will result in evidence of a crime. For instance, he may describe how an informant told him that John Smith keeps an illegal shotgun in his house, or he may describe how he arrested John Smith for drug dealing on October 3 and believes his phone contains text messages related to drug transactions. If the judge doesn't think the affidavit has enough information, he will not sign the warrant. Affidavits are public records, so sometimes officers will seek to seal the affidavit (for instance to protect the identity of a confidential witness).

The process then is this:

1.) The officer writes a warrant describing the place he wants to search and the items he expects to find.

2.) The officer writes an affidavit describing why he thinks he will find those items and how he thinks they are evidence of a crime.

3.) The officer goes to a judge; if the judge agrees with the affidavit, he will sign the warrant, at which point the officer can search.

OOC Procedure: You submit a ticket with the information above to Theramore in the LAW bucket with the title Search Warrant Request. Make sure to include all information stated above.