Four Search Warrant Requirements in Drug Cases

In the colonial period, British officials often used blank search warrants to enter private property with little or no cause. To end this practice, the Founding Fathers included the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Later, courts used the Fourteenth Amendment to apply this provision to state law enforcement agencies.

The law varies, largely depending on the makeup of the United States Supreme Court. But these four requirements are pretty much ironclad.

Good Faith

Most officers ask for search warrants in good faith based on considerable amounts of evidence. Nevertheless, there are always a few bad eggs. So, an attorney must diligently inquire into this area.

Sometimes, one of the investigating officers has a personal grievance against one of the investigation targets. Or, perhaps an officer has an animus against a particular ethnic group. It’s very rare for officers to lie on applications or fabricate evidence, but it does happen.

Neutral Magistrate

This issue does not come up in drug crime cases very often either. Most judges are completely above reproach in this area, as well as all others.

Sometimes, statistics may come into play. For example, if Judge X reviews 1,000 warrant applications and issues 1,000 warrants, there may be some question as to how closely s/he reviews these applications.

Probable Cause

Attacking the basis for the search warrant is the best way to overturn it. Just like in the movies, informer’s tips often serve as probable cause. Back in ye olden days, the Supreme Court used an objective test to measure tip reliability. Now, courts use a more lenient totality-of-the-circumstances analysis. Some factors include:

· Source: One of the most unsettling episodes in recent memory happened right next door. In 2001, Dallas Police officers paid six informants almost $450,000 for information about a cocaine distribution ring. The “cocaine” turned out to be pool chalk dust. Even worse, the informants targeted recent immigrants with poor English skills. Enrique Martinez Alonso and his codelincuentes reasoned these people were too weak to fight back.

· Specificity: In property search warrant cases, this factor is very important. “Ridgemar Apartments” is not a very specific location. “Ridgemar Apartments Building 3” is not much better. “Ridgemar Apartments No. 3201” is a specific location.

Other factors include the informant’s track record (or lack thereof) and the time that officers received the tip.

Specific Content

Usually, an apartment is such a small place that the apartment number is specific enough. There is no reason to specify living room, bedroom, or whatever.

But houses and large buildings are different. Usually, a warrant must specify both the items to seize and the place to seize them. If the search warrant says cocaine in the living room, officers cannot look for counterfeit currency in the garage. That’s especially true if the garage is not attached to the house or main building.

Search warrants must pass muster under several requirements. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. Convenient payment plans are available.