In order to complete their responsibilities, police officers can search homes or other locations and seize anything related to the crime they are investigating. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from being unreasonably searched or having their items illegally confiscated by law enforcement. The amendment details the criteria that must be met before a legal warrant can be signed.
In order to issue a warrant, it must be filed in good faith by the officer. They are burdened with providing probable cause. They secure this information by collecting sworn statements, known as affidavits, from other officers, informants, victims or witnesses. The information listed on the affidavit must come from firsthand experience and be detailed. If it does not meet these requirements, the search warrant may be turned away, requiring the officer to collect additional information.
Once all the information is received it is given to a magistrate who must consider the individual providing the statement. They need to analyze the reliability of the individual and the knowledge they have. The magistrate must be impartial to the situation. They must be detached and be able to ascertain that the information on the warrant holds merit as probable cause for the search.
Before the warrant can be signed, it must detail where the officer is searching and what they are aiming to seize. Officers must stay within the scope written on the warrant. For instance, if the warrant lists the search location as the backyard, officers would then be unable to enter the home. They are only able to search for the items on the document. That would mean that if it lists that the officers are searching for drugs, they would not be able to actively search for weapons.
There are exceptions to this. If evidence or contraband is in plain view, the officer can confiscate the item to prevent its destruction. They may also arrest anyone if there is sufficient evidence to do so.
In addition to plain-view searches, consent searches are done when officers are given permission. They are able to search any location that they have access to. The court does not require that officers ask permission to explore every room and instead find that the first consent was general enough as long as the officer’s understanding of consent was reasonable.
Any information found by the officers through the warrant or other searches would be usable in court.