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Tampa & Sarasota Search and Seizure Attorneys

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“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution


A search warrant is an order signed by a judge that allows police to look for evidence of a crime. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects all of us against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” and warrants are designed to ensure that our rights are protected. The rules that govern search warrants are complex and constantly changing, which means that police sometimes make mistakes in drafting and executing them. This is good news for you! Why? Because drugs seized with an invalid search warrant are likely inadmissible as evidence, and the prosecutor’s entire case against you probably hinges on those drugs.

A warrant is typically required only when the search infringes on an individual’s private property or reasonable expectation of privacy. In order to obtain a valid search warrant, police must show statutory grounds, meaning that they believe the premises to be searched contains stolen property or items used or intended to be used in the commission of a crime.

In order to challenge a search on Fourth Amendment grounds, an individual must have “standing” to do so; that is, you cannot object to a search on the grounds that it violated the rights of someone else. For example, if you were a passenger in someone else’s car or a guest in their home, that individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy; you, however, do not. It is important to note that there are gray areas in this area of law and such searches can sometimes be challenged.

In many cases, police are required to knock and announce themselves before executing a search warrant. However, if they are denied entry, they have the authority to enter by force. Also, police can sometimes obtain authorization for a “no-knock” warrant in cases where law-enforcement officers believe they will face undue harm if they announce themselves.

There are different types of search warrants available to law enforcement:

Telephonic or Facsimile Warrants

Police communicate the statutory grounds for obtaining the warrant over the phone or electronically. These types of warrants are often served at night and are usually obtained when police believe time is of the essence.

Rollback (or “Piggyback”) Warrants

Allows police to search an individual’s home, place of business, or another location after finding evidence that a crime was committed elsewhere, such as in a vehicle.

Anticipatory (or “Conditional”) Warrants

Obtained when investigators believe that evidence of a crime may not be present at the location at the time the warrant is requested, but that they believe the evidence will be present at some future time.

“Sneak and Peek” Warrants

These clandestine warrants are executed to allow police to surreptitiously enter a property without the owner’s knowledge.

Hobbs Warrants

These warrants may be sealed with a judge’s approval to protect the identity of an informant or other sensitive information.

Administrative Warrants

these allow law enforcement officers to merely make an inspection and uncover evidence of a crime in the process. However, this evidence is likely inadmissible unless probable cause that a crime had occurred existed before the warrant was executed.

Out-of-County Warrants

Allow investigators to seek evidence outside their jurisdiction.

Night Searches

Police must obtain special permission to execute a warrant under cover of darkness.

The Bottom Line On Search Warrants

Although there are many types of warrants, the rules governing their execution are complex and technical, and mistakes may be made that will benefit you. Challenging the legality of a search warrant may lead to evidence against you being excluded or having the entire case thrown out.

Warrant…Or NOT!

There are cases where police can search you and your property without a warrant. For example, if you are on probation or parole from a prior criminal conviction, police can conduct a search without probable cause.

If you are the driver or a passenger in a car that is stopped by police, the officer generally can’t search the vehicle without probable cause unless the driver is on probation or parole. However, police often ask for permission to search a vehicle, and, if it is granted, no probable cause is needed. Police often confuse drivers into consenting to a search by saying “If you have nothing to hide, why not allow me to look inside?” However, it is always wise to refuse permission to search the vehicle if there is no warrant.

Police are permitted to perform a limited search after arresting a criminal suspect, but only to look for evidence of the crime for which the person is under arrest and to ensure public safety by preventing access to a weapon. So, for example, if you are arrested for a traffic offense and police find drugs during a subsequent search of your person, that evidence is likely inadmissible unless it is related to the offense for which you were arrested.

In some cases, police may be able to search common areas of your home if given consent by a roommate, a spouse, or any other adult who shares your living space. While this consent allows police to search these common areas, they are still barred from entering your private living space without a warrant.

Sometimes police receive anonymous tips about criminal activity, but they cannot obtain a warrant based solely on that information. Anonymous tips must first be corroborated by an independent source in order to allow police to obtain a warrant.

Police sometimes stop individuals in public and perform a “stop-and-frisk” search. Police aren’t required to have probable cause to perform this controversial search technique – they’re only required to have “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is about to be committed, which is a much lower legal standard.

In a stop-and-frisk search, police are generally limited to patting the outer layer of a persons clothing to search for a weapon. If the officer finds evidence of another crime, such as drug possession, that evidence is generally inadmissible unless the officer can show that probable cause existed to search for it.

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