Understanding Search and Arrest Warrants

officer posting a notice on a front door

You don’t have to be a criminal law expert to know that police “need a warrant” when interacting with people they suspect of committing crimes. TV shows, movies, and the news all talk about police getting warrants as a key part of the investigation process. But if you are the one being investigated you need to understand how search and arrest warrants work so you can fully protect your rights.

What is a Search Warrant?

A search warrant is an order entered by a criminal judge authorizing police to go to a specific place and look for specific things. For example, a search order might say police could go into the home located at 123 Main Street to search for evidence of controlled substances (drugs), including paraphernalia, dice bags and other packaging materials, contraband items, and cash on the premises.

To get a search warrant, police must submit an affidavit to a neutral judge, where they set out the evidence they have to believe criminal activity or evidence of a crime exists in that particular location. The judge reviews the affidavit to confirm that they had “probable cause” to support their claims, and then issues the search warrant.

The probable cause needed to support a search warrant doesn’t take a lot of evidence. Judges often approve search agreements based on little more than a confidential informant’s word. Also, judges often don’t spend a lot of time reviewing the details in the police officers’ affidavits. That means it is entirely possible for police to get a warrant to search a home or other building even when there has been no crime committed.

When Police Don’t Need a Search Warrant

The Fourth Amendment says that people are protected against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” but there many exceptions that allow police to search people, cars, and even houses without a search warrant:

  • When someone gives them consent to search
  • When an officer sees evidence or contraband “in plain view”
  • While they are arresting a person
  • In response to “exigent circumstances” that threaten someone or suggest evidence could be destroyed
  • “Frisking” a person for weapons during an investigative stop

Each of these situations have their own details and limitations, and there are other exceptions as well, far more than can be included in a single blog post. Whenever the police have performed a search without a warrant, you should carefully review the details of that search with your criminal defense attorney to see whether the police have violated your rights. Those violations could exclude the evidence the search revealed, and even cause the criminal charges against you to be dismissed.

How Do Arrest Warrants Work?

The mechanics of an arrest warrant is basically the same as a search warrant. A police officer submits an affidavit laying out the evidence showing that a specific person committed a crime. A criminal judge reviews that evidence and if there is probable cause to support the police’s allegations, the judge can issue a warrant for the person’s arrest.

However, unlike search warrants, arrest warrants aren’t limited to a specific location. Instead, once an arrest warrant has been issued, the police are allowed to arrest the person wherever that person may be found. It allows police to enter public places, your place of employment, or your home to perform the arrest. This arrest can also trigger search warrant exceptions, allowing the police to collect evidence at the same time they perform the arrest. This is why it is always a good idea to step outside to talk to police, rather than allowing them into your home.

There are also other forms of arrest warrants that can be issued by judges from “the bench.” These bench warrants can be issued for failing to show up to a scheduled court hearing, unpaid traffic tickets, child support arrearages, and other violations of court orders.

What You Should Do if You Have a Warrant in Connecticut

Not every police investigation ends with a TV-worthy raid at a person’s home to arrest them. Bench warrants and arrest warrants for low-severity crimes can sometimes be issued without your knowledge. These outstanding warrants can turn a routine traffic stop or even an unrelated visit to court into a life-disrupting arrest.

A criminal defense attorney can help to reduce the disruption of an arrest warrant. If you hire a lawyer as soon as you learn there could be a warrant out for your arrest, they can coordinate an arraignment or other hearing on that warrant and request bail on your behalf. This can allow you to manage your affairs and minimize the interference on your life. If you think you may have missed a court hearing, owe fees or support, or are being investigated for a crime, you can search the Connecticut judicial branch’s warrant database so you can be prepared and respond appropriately to any warrants issued against you..

Don’t wait for the police to knock on your door with a search or arrest warrant. The Lebedevitch Law Firm in Fairfield, Connecticut, can help you interact with police to avoid criminal charges and respond to warrants issued against you. If criminal charges have already been filed, we can help you review the police’s actions to identify potential defenses and help you make wise decisions about how to respond to those charges. Contact us for a free consultation.

Categories: Criminal Defense