Many people are so shocked and upset to have the police show up at their home with a search warrant in hand, they may not realize that the police are limited in their search by the specifics of the warrant. While it is remotely possible the warrant could give the police carte blanche to search and seize at will, it is not probable.
More often, search warrants are strictly limited to specific areas of your home, as the police would have had to show probable cause to a judge that the item they are looking for is, say, in your attic.
Make Sure the Address on the Warrant Is Correct
Therefore, if officers come to your door, politely ask to see the warrant, and have one of the officers show you the section identifying your home in particular. This is because warrant addresses have been known to be read incorrectly by police, or contain a typo, which directs them to the wrong residence. This means your address could be 14636, while the address on the warrant is 16436. If there is an obvious error on the warrant, bring it to the officer’s attention—politely.
Look for the Limitations in the Search Warrant
If, on the other hand, the address is yours, read through the warrant, searching for limitations to the search areas. As an example, if the search warrant specifically limits the search to your attic, then while the police will have to walk through your home to reach the attic access, they are not allowed to search your home on the walk-through. Further, some states define “house” as your home plus any structure attached to it, which would include your garage, while others consider the garage a separate structure, even if it is attached.
Note the Evidence the Police Are Allowed to Look For
Once you have ensured the police are searching in the proper location, the second limitation of the warrant is the type of evidence they are allowed to search for. For instance, if the search warrant specifically states the police are allowed to look for firearms, then they are not allowed to open a small ring box, which obviously could not have a firearm inside. Sometimes this concept is explained with the phrase “the police cannot look for an elephant in a matchbox.”
Plain View=Fair Game
Unfortunately, search warrants tend to be rather broad in scope, meaning the officers may be able to get away with looking in places without express warrant permission. Further, keep in mind that anything illegal which is in plain view an entirely different matter, and doesn’t need specific warrant permission. As an example, if the police are looking in your sock drawer for a weapon, and find your stash of drugs alongside the gun, the drugs can be seized—and you can be charged with a drug crime in addition to the weapons charges.
When Is a Warrantless Search Legal?
The Fourth Amendment allows the police to engage in “reasonable” search and seizures, and in order to prove the search is reasonable, the police must convince a judge it is likely a crime was committed, and that evidence of that crime will be found during the search. There are “special circumstances” in which a warrantless search could be legal, including:
- When the police have consent;
- When there is evidence of criminal activity in plain view;
- When the police need to search an area where a person who has been arrested could have hidden evidence;
- When the police feel the safety of others is at risk, or a criminal activity is occurring, the emergency exception may be used, and
- When an officer believes there is evidence in a vehicle which reinforces the crime for which a person in the vehicle was just arrested.
If the police are conducting a warrantless search of you, your vehicle or your premises, don’t get in their way, but do make it clear they do not have your consent to search—then promptly contact your attorney. Police officers may not perform a warrantless search any place where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy—unless one of the above warrant exceptions apply. If the police do have a warrant, make sure it is in order, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.
Contact Our Jackson Criminal Defense Lawyers
If you believe that the police violated your right when searching your home in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Meridian, or anywhere in the State of Mississippi, the best thing you can do is to contact an experienced Mississippi criminal defense attorney who will protect your rights to a fair trial and safeguard your future.
At Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, our attorneys believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and we work tirelessly to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process. Contact Coxwell & Associates today at (601) 265-7766 or 1-877-231-1600.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.