When law enforcement officers show up at your home, office or other property and present you with a search warrant, it can leave a person in shock. Searches are often scheduled for early morning or other times when people will be caught off-guard.
Officers or agents must present a copy of the search warrant. However, focusing on what it says while watching them go through your home and belongings can feel like an impossible task.
Chances are that the warrant is valid and is signed by a judge who has been provided with “probable cause” for the search. However, ensure that a judge has signed off on it. Further, you need to look for the following information to ensure that the search is being carried out legally.
The address of the property and the area(s) that can be searched
It’s not unheard of for the address to be wrong on the warrant or for the address to be correct but for officers to go to the wrong location. Further, sometimes, they have an old address for someone who no longer resides at the home they’ve come to search. Confirm that the address is accurate. If there are names on the warrant, make sure they’re people who still live there.
Some search warrants give wide leeway to what areas can be searched. A search warrant may allow a search of the entire home. However, sometimes, it will specify certain rooms. If the search involves a business, it may only list specific offices or areas within the property.
What property can be seized?
Typically, anything that appears to be or that could potentially be illegal can be seized. For example, this could include anything that looks like illegal drugs or stolen items. If evidence is believed to be on computers, these and all other electronic devices may be seized.
Further, officers can take anything in “plain view,” whether it’s addressed in the warrant or not, if they have a reasonable belief that it’s evidence of a crime. If someone has a large bag of cash or what appears to be drugs on a foyer table as they enter, that’s “plain view” – meaning they could see it without looking for it.
You have a right to watch the search, but don’t interfere or argue with officers. It’s best to seek legal guidance as soon as possible to protect your rights.