Consultant for writers on crime, police, & court procedures.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


One aspect of criminal justice that confuses many writers is the legal justification for searches.  On TV, detectives pretty much search whatever they want whenever they want without respect to the legalities involved. The Supreme Court has ruled that a warrant is needed to conduct a search except in a limited number of circumstances.  For example, a driver can give consent to search his car.  An officer can search a person she has arrested. A SWAT team could go into a warehouse to rescue a hostage. 

Most searches are conducted without a warrant because of these “exceptions.” But when an exception to the warrant requirement does not exist, the officer must obtain a warrant.

There’s only one hangup—to obtain a warrant, there must be “probable cause” to believe there is evidence at the place to the searched. Without good reason, a judge will not issue a warrant.

The search warrant consists of two parts—the affidavit prepared by an officer attesting to the facts that establish probable cause and the command or order issued by a judge to conduct the search.

While you may not wish to get bogged down in the technicalities of affidavit preparation, avoid the mistake of mischaracterizing the process. The biggest mistake is inferring a warrant can be obtained in a matter of minutes.  Some agencies are using electronic