What To Know About Search Warrants In CT
In Connecticut and across the United States, the Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that, in most cases, the police need a search warrant before they can lawfully search your property. Before a search warrant can be issued, law enforcement officers must show a judge that they have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed or that they will find evidence of criminal activity.
What Is a Search Warrant?
A search warrant is a court order that authorizes police or other law enforcement officers to search a specific location at a specific time for specific items.
To obtain a warrant, the police must present a judge with an affidavit that establishes that they have probable cause to believe criminal activity is occurring or that they will find evidence of illegal activity. The affidavit usually contains the police officer’s observations, or information from private citizens or confidential informants that gives the officer reason to suspect that illegal activity is occurring.
If the judge finds that there is probable cause, they will issue a search warrant authorizing the police to enter the building at a specific time and search for the items identified in the warrant.
In most cases, the suspect is not present when police request a warrant, and the police officer’s presentation is often one-sided. If the police had a warrant to search your house but you believe they did not have probable cause, your lawyer can challenge the validity of the search warrant. If a judge later determines that there was no probable cause, evidence obtained during the search will be excluded from consideration in the case.
When is a Search Warrant Required?
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a search warrant is only necessary when the suspect has a “legitimate expectation of privacy” in the place or thing to be searched. A warrant is not required if the police which to search a place in which the suspect does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Courts apply a two-part test to determine whether a person has a legitimate expectation of privacy.
- Did the person have a subjective expectation that the place or thing would be private (i.e., did they believe that the place or thing would remain private)?
- Was the suspect’s expectation of privacy objectively reasonable (i.e., would a reasonable person in a similar situation have the same expectation of privacy)?
As an example, consider a search warrant for a person’s home. Most people believe their home is private (i.e., they have a subjective expectation of privacy). Most people also believe this expectation is reasonable (i.e., the expectation of privacy is objectively reasonable). Therefore, police must obtain a warrant before searching a person’s home.
What Should You Do If Police Have a Search Warrant?
If police officers come to your home with a warrant, read it carefully. The warrant should list the specific location to be searched, what they hope to find, and how much time they can spend at your home.
Unfortunately, if you believe the police are exceeding the authority granted by the search warrant or are violating your rights in other ways, there is very little you can do in the moment. Be courteous, but assert your rights and remember that you are not required to consent to a search that is beyond the scope of the warrant. For example, if the warrant calls for a search of your home and the police ask to search your car, you are not required to consent to a search of the vehicle. Your remedy is to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer and seek to have evidence excluded by filing a motion to suppress evidence that was illegally obtained.
Exceptions to the Search Warrant Requirement
There are instances when the police do not need a warrant to perform a search.
You are not required to consent to a search. But if police ask to conduct a search and you consent, the police do not need a warrant, and any evidence obtained can be used against you.
Search in Connection with an Arrest
Police do not need a warrant to search for weapons while placing a person under arrest. They are authorized to perform a “protective sweep” to identify potential threats. This usually includes areas near the suspect, such as under beds or in closets.
If evidence of illegal activity is in “plain view,” the police do not need a search warrant. For example, if police see drugs on your kitchen table, they are not required to obtain a warrant to arrest you and seize the evidence.
Police are not required to obtain a warrant if obtaining the warrant would jeopardize public safety or lead to the destruction of evidence. A classic example is a suspect who is in the bathroom trying to flush drugs down the toilet. If police suspect illegal activity, they are not required to obtain a warrant.
Stop and Frisk
Police are authorized to briefly detain a suspect and frisk them for weapons or other contraband if they reasonably believe a person has committed a crime or is armed and dangerous. This is known as a Terry stop and if it leads to the discovery of evidence, that evidence can be admitted in court.
The Fourth Amendment only applies to government actors. Private citizens, such as security guards, are not required to obtain a search warrant. While they might be violating other laws, the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures does not apply.
Protect Your Rights: Contact The Lebedevitch Law Firm Today
Police officers and other law enforcement agents are authorized to exercise considerable power. But their power is not absolute. If you think the police violated your rights, even if they obtained evidence that you committed a crime, you may have a legal defense.
Connecticut criminal defense attorney Stephen Lebedevitch protects his clients from abusive police tactics. He has earned a reputation as a tireless advocate of the accused and is highly respected by prosecutors, judges, and his fellow criminal defense lawyers. To schedule a consultation to discuss your situation, contact The Lebedevitch Law Firm today.
The Lebedevitch Law Firm is based in Fairfield and proudly represents people who have been charged with crimes in Stamford, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Darien, Rowayton, Fairfield, Trumbull, Westport, Wilton, Weston, Danbury, New Haven, Bethany, Woodbridge, Milford, Stratford, Bridgeport, and throughout the State of Connecticut.