A search warrant is a document, or an ORDER signed by a judge, which gives police officers authorization to search for specific items or material at a specified time and location. Therefore, when a judge authorizes a police officer to search a dwelling on a date and time and for specific objects or materials a search warrant is granted.
Before a warrant can be granted a law enforcement official needs to provide evidence and an affidavit confirming that the evidence is true and valid.
An affidavit is a written statement, made under oath. These affidavits need to suggest that there are objectively suspicious activities occurring at the site where the police officers are requesting to search. However, an affidavit must refrain from using subjective beliefs such as an individual’s opinion.
Anticipatory search warrants allow police officers, who can show probable clause, to receive a search warrant before the contraband reaches the location to be searched. For example, if a police officer can convince a judge that a shipment of cocaine is about to be delivered to a suspects residence, they can get a warrant that authorizes the police to search the residence once the cocaine is delivered.
The information in the affidavit need not be admissible at trial. For example, if a police officer tells the judge that a reliable confidential informant has stated that that a shipment of cocaine is en-route to a specific location the judge is relying on information that would fall under the hearsay rule (meaning that a person who is not present is being relied on for testimony). Here, the confidential informant is the person believed to be telling the truth even though he/she is not present nor is he/she signing the affidavit. Therefore, hearsay, which is not admissible as evidence in a trial, can be used at times to issue a warrant if a judge, magistrate, or judicial officer considers it reliable.
The following sources in an affidavit are usually considered reliable: A confidential police informant, an informant who implicates him or herself as well as the suspect, an informant whose information appears to be correct after at least partial verification by police, a victim of a crime related to a search, a witness to the crime related to the search, or another police officer.
Lastly, it is important to know that even if a search warrant is invalid, the evidence gathered from the search may still be admissible. In US v. Leon (1984), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that as long as the search was conducted in good-faith reliance on the warrant (e.g., confidential informant stated that the material to be transported was cocaine, but in fact only illegal guns were found) than the evidence would be admissible.
An experienced California Criminal Lawyer understands the complexity of the warrant requirement and will be able to know whether there is a warrant issue in your case.
***The information in this blog entry does not constitute legal advice.