How Police Obtain a Warrant to Search for Drugs
Before police can search for drugs, they need to obtain a warrant from the court unless a few exceptions apply. The search warrant is a legal document explaining where the police can search for evidence of a crime. Once law enforcement has a warrant, they do not need your consent to search the specified area.
Police officers must get search warrants from judges or magistrate judges. The judge issuing a warrant must be “neutral and detached” and “capable of determining whether probable cause exists”. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971). This requirement helps ensure that there is no conflict of interest for the judge and that he or she can decide whether there is probable cause. In the Coolidge case, police searched a suspect’s car after obtaining a warrant from the attorney general investigating the suspect’s case, who was acting as a magistrate. Since the warrant issuer had a vested interest in searching the suspect’s car, he was not neutral and detached.
When a law enforcement officer requests a warrant from a judge, he or she must show that there is probable cause to believe that a search is justified. Probable cause means that there is a “reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed” or that “evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched.” The officer must show probable cause to the judge by submitting signed statements called affidavits explaining why the search is justified.
The affidavits must list in detail the places police will search and the items they plan to seize. A vague warrant may lead to a conclusion that the search violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551 (2004). When a search exceeds the scope of the warrant or items not listed on the warrant are seized without a further showing of probable cause, a court may find a Fourteenth Amendment violation.
Law enforcement do not have to get warrants for every search. The courts have determined that warrantless searches are acceptable if they are reasonable under the circumstances. When an emergency is in progress, evidence could be destroyed, or suspects could escape, police may conduct searches without warrants. Searches of automobiles are one of the most common situations when police often do not obtain a warrant.
Courts have power to limit searches with warrants and limit introduction of evidence from warrantless searches. When considering an application for a warrant, the judge may narrow its scope or limit the time and method by which the police may make the search. After law enforcement makes a search, the judge may exclude evidence obtained if it was obtained without a warrant and no exception to the warrant requirement applies.
Have you been charged with a drug crime after a warrantless search in Oklahoma? Clint Patterson, Esq., of Patterson Law Firm, a former Tulsa prosecutor now using his trial experience and knowledge of the system to defend those accused of drug crimes, can advise you of your options. To schedule a case evaluation, visit Patterson Law Firm online or call Clint’s office at (918) 550-9175.