What Is a Search Warrant and What Does it Do?
A search warrant (NRS Chapter 179) is simply a court order giving law enforcement the legal authority to explore a private residence, office or vehicle to uncover evidence that a crime has occurred. Such a document must describe in detail not only the location in which the investigation can take place but also any items that the police may seize upon discovery.
Who Issues the Search Warrant?
In Nevada, magistrates or judges issue search warrants, and they will do this only if law enforcement can convince them that the location in question likely contains evidence that points to the commission of a crime.
What Proof Do They Need to Get a Search Warrant?
In making their case, the police will provide to the judge a written statement showing probable cause. Taken under oath, this affidavit will contain the observations of undercover agents, private citizens or members of law enforcement that evidence of criminal activity most likely exists at the site in question.
The evidentiary items involved must be those that could prove to have been or might one day be:
- Embezzled or stolen in defiance of the law.
- Used in the commission of a crime.
- Obtained or kept on hand for use while committing a future criminal act.
To validate the warrant, the items must relate in some way to known or suspected illegal activity and potentially indicate a particular person’s involvement.
Are Search Warrants Lawful?
Although the process of search and seizure allows the government to legally intrude upon a person’s privacy and confiscate any evidence that it might find, the Fourth Amendment does protect United States citizens from any such operation that it finds to be unreasonable. Accordingly, all federal, state and local police who engage in the process must adhere to the strictures and guidelines listed above. If the court should find that they conducted the operation in an illegal manner, it may subsequently disregard any evidence uncovered.
Do the Fourth Amendment Restrictions Apply to Everyone?
No. They apply only to members of law enforcement and pose no impediment to the actions of non-governmental agents or to any evidence that these individuals might turn up on their own.
What Constitutes a Valid Search Warrant?
Not all Nevada search warrants are legal. The law considers a warrant unlawful if:
- The affidavit’s proof of probable cause should turn out to be untrue.
- The specifications contained in the warrant were overly broad or insufficiently specific.
- The judge or magistrate who signed the warrant had a stake in getting the search performed.
If the search warrant should prove defective, a subsequent investigation will have been illegal. Consequently, any evidence uncovered would be inadmissible in a Nevada court of law. This is why it’s important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.
How Long Will a Search Warrant Remain Valid?
Any search warrant must state on its face the period of its validity. Due to the short-lived nature of most evidence, the vast majority will remain in force for only a matter of days.
What if I Refuse to Let Them In?
That would be a big mistake on your part. The search warrant empowers Nevada police to break down the door, shatter a window or use any reasonable type and amount of force required to gain entry.
Who Would Pay to Fix What They Broke?
A qualified immunity generally relieves law enforcement of liability for any reasonable property damage that occurs during a legal search and seizure operation. The operative word here is “reasonable.” While such destruction would not in and of itself violate the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights, the police might be responsible for excessive damages that fall outside the realm of what was required to conduct the search.
Can I Read the Search Warrant Before Letting Them In?
Yes. Do it carefully, and then watch as they conduct the search. Make sure that they stick to the area outlined in the search warrant. If you can, take notes on where they went and what they seized.
What If The Officers Do Something Wrong?
Don’t argue with them. Just remember that by straying from the dictates of the warrant, the police automatically invalidate the search. Should you later find yourself charged with a criminal act, you can use this fact to challenge their findings.
Can They Legally Conduct a Physical Search?
In Nevada, they can if you face felony charges and they believe that you might be carrying a dangerous weapon or any item that could stand as evidence of your having committed the offense.
When Can Law Enforcement Enter Without a Search Warrant?
The police can legally enter your home without a search warrant if the situation involves:
- Consent. If you own the property in question and give permission to the officers, they can subsequently search the premises without a warrant. Someone who lives with you can also give limited consent, but only to search the location’s common areas. Remember that once law enforcement has your consent, you lose the right to challenge the search’s legality or its findings.
- Searches that occur in conjunction with an arrest. When placing you under arrest, a member of law enforcement has the legal right to search you and your surroundings for weapons or contraband. They may also make a defensive sweep of the premises to ensure that no one inside might pose a danger to others.
- Exigent circumstances. The police can legally conduct a search without a warrant when there is imminent danger, a threat to someone’s safety or the risk of evidence destruction.
Law enforcement will also need no warrant to conduct a search during a stop-and-frisk operation, while in pursuit or when needing to investigate the contents of an automobile.
If They Find Anything Suspicious, Can They Arrest Me?
A search warrant does give law enforcement permission to take you into custody, but they can only do so with probable cause. In other words, the facts and evidence uncovered during the search must substantiate the hypothesis that you either have committed, are now committing or intend to commit a crime.
What If They Find an Unrelated Illegal Item?
When the police come in looking for a particular article and uncover another piece of contraband instead, they can confiscate that object and hold you responsible if:
- They found it within the boundaries covered by the search warrant.
- Finding it in that location would not have been impossible.
For example, law enforcement might logically locate either drugs or a gun in your dresser drawer, but they cannot claim to have found a stolen car hidden beneath your socks.
If My Friend Has Something Illegal in My House, Am I Liable?
Since you could potentially take possession of the contraband with little trouble, the law would usually consider you equally responsible under the concept of constructive possession. In a case like this, the state of Nevada might dismiss criminal charges only if:
- You can prove that you had no knowledge of the item’s presence.
- Law enforcement discovered the object during an illegal search.
Your fate in such a situation will often depend on the ability of a competent criminal attorney to convince the jury of your innocence.
If a search-and-seizure operation has uncovered criminal evidence against you, an expert criminal defense attorney from Weiner Law Group can help you explore your options. Call 702-202-0500 of fill out our contact form for a free consultation today!