Everyone has heard the term “search warrant” at some time or another but do you really know what a search warrant is? More importantly do you know when the police are required to have one to search your person or your property? You think that you will never need to know anything about search warrants because you are a law abiding citizen; however, even the most upstanding citizen in San Diego and anywhere else could be faced with a request to search for some reason in his or her life. If that time ever comes you will be glad you have at least a basic understanding of search warrants.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. In San Diego, that means that the police are required to obtain a search warrant before conducting a search. To obtain a search warrant in San Diego an officer must have probable cause to believe that evidence of criminal activity will be found during the search. The officer must provide the probable cause in an affidavit and present the affidavit to a judge or magistrate for review. If the judge/magistrate is convinced that probable cause exists a warrant will be issued. The search warrant must describe in detail the place to be searched and indicate what the police are searching for.
Over the years, numerous exceptions have been carved out of the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. While each case is unique, there are some general guidelines that apply to a search warrant in San Diego:
- Your home remains relatively well protected from warrantless searches.
- Your vehicle, if being driven on a public roadway, can be searched without a warrant in many cases because the courts have determined that we have a diminished expectation of privacy when operating a vehicle on a public roadway.
- Your person is subject to a “pat-down” search for weapons without a search warrant.
- Consent is always an exception to the warrant requirement. If you give the police consent to search anything then a warrant isn’t needed.
The warrant requirement is intended to protect you from intrusive and unjustified searches; however, you must protect yourself by contacting an experienced San Diego defense attorney immediately if you are asked to consent to a search of your property.