How Do Police Obtain Search Warrants?

Written by james withers
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How Do Police Obtain Search Warrants?
("Police Dog", by Svadilfari)

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Interviewing Informants

Before making a request for a search warrant, police officers will often interview informants. These interviews may take place in public, by telephone or even inside interrogation chambers at a police station. Skilled law enforcement personnel are trained in the use of forensic interviewing techniques and will usually attempt to develop rapport with informants rather than immediately try to intimidate them into divulging information (See Reference 1). By using such techniques, police officers often are able to persuade people to waive their Fifth Amendment rights and share vital information regarding a suspect or a location. This hearsay may be later used to establish probable cause for a search warrant.

A Prosecutor Must File Charges

Standard procedure for filing search warrants requires that prosecutors, such as deputy district attorneys or assistant U.S. Attorneys, must review facts related to these warrants with police officers who seek to file them. While conferring with a prosecutor may sound like a time-consuming process, experienced police officers are sometimes able to complete such interactions in only a few minutes (See Reference 2). Prosecutor involvement is not always required to conduct a search. For example, in an emergency situation, police are allowed to search a person or location if exigent circumstances exist. Covered under the umbrella of exigent circumstances is one's level of intoxication. Like other evidence that could be easily lost unless police conduct a surprise search, a person's blood alcohol level changes within hours.

Evidence of Probable Cause Must be Presented to a Judge

A judge is entrusted with the enormous responsibility of deciding whether a police search will violate the constitutional rights of any person or persons being searched. For a search warrant to be approved by a judge, a police officer must first present evidence of probable cause to the judge. Such probable cause may be based on affidavits provided by witnesses, victims of crimes, co-conspirators or members of law enforcement. As police officers wait for a judge to provide approval for a search, the officers are allowed to prevent entry into the particular residence or business location that is being targeted for a search, due to the fact that warrants are not always quickly processed and evidence within a location can may be destroyed if people are permitted to enter freely (See Reference 3).

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