On behalf of Steven W. Thayer, P.S. Criminal Defense Attorney on Saturday, November 3, 2018.
Many people may understand that police generally need to have a warrant to search a home. There are some exceptions to that rule. But, if members of law enforcement have a signed warrant to conduct a search, does that mean that the search is constitutional? The answer to that question requires the full analysis of the individual facts of the event. Police generally must provide sufficient information to a judicial officer to support probable cause for a search to obtain a valid warrant. Members of law enforcement, and judicial officers, can make mistakes related to the issuance of a warrant.
The Need For Particularized Information In A Search Warrant
It is critical to note that sufficient information is not based upon the sheer volume of information. In many instances, especially when police are relying on observations of individuals who are not officers, police must show a basis that the information is reliable. Moreover, the allegations, information, or details used to support a warrant must include particularized information – not mere stereotypical data or assumptions. Law enforcement must show a reasonable basis to believe that the “evidence is likely to be found at the place to be searched.” Moreover, police must show in the warrant application a reasonable basis to believe that the particular items listed to be seized in the search have some link to alleged criminal behavior.
It Is Not Always Intentional Conduct – Overlooking The Facts May Be Unfair
On some occasions, stories may make the news that police falsified information to obtain a warrant. The kind of conduct, however, is not the only basis for a vigorous criminal defense attorney to challenge the admissibility of evidence based upon flaws in a warrant. Information that is provided in the warrant application may be shown to be unreliable. Members of law enforcement may jump to conclusions and provide information that is not particularized to the individual case.
For example, a federal appellate panel overturned a man’s conviction based upon a warrant that should never have been issued. Police merely assumed that the man must own a cellphone and sought to seize any cellphone or other electronic devices (such as laptops or tablets) that were found during the search. The appellate judges determined that police merely assumed that the man owned a cellphone – there was no evidence, police observations, or other reliable information offered to support the idea that the individual owned a cellphone or other any electronic device. Moreover, the appellate panel reasoned that the request to seize any device in the home was overbroad, as the scope of the warrant could include cellphones or electronic devices found in the home that were owned by someone other than the man under investigation.
Generalizations or assumptions may find their way into a search warrant application. A criminal defense lawyer may thoroughly analyze the details in the application, or affidavits, used to obtain a warrant for unreasonable flaws. Improper information, generalized assumptions, as well as unreliable data may be a basis to challenge the validity of a search warrant. It is vital for anyone accused of a crime to seek the guidance and representation of qualified legal counsel to help safeguard rights.