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Search area limitations for warrant searches

There are many different types of searches that police may conduct as part of a drug crime investigation. One such type are property searches done with a warrant.

An important thing to note is that a warrant does not give police carte blanche to search a property in any way they want. There are certain search restrictions a warrant generally includes. For one, search warrants contain terms outlining what specific areas of a property they authorize searches in. Generally, searches conducted pursuant to a warrant are to be limited to the areas specified in the warrant.

Now, this does not mean that police who are searching a property as part of the execution of a search warrant can never search areas other than those specified in the warrant. There are certain special circumstances in which police generally can search outside of the specified areas, including when doing so is necessary to:

  • Keep evidence from being destroyed.
  • Protect their own safety.
  • Protect the safety of others.
  • Follow up on leads found during the search of the areas specified in the warrant that indicate relevant items may be present in other areas of the property. 
  • Get more information on potentially relevant items in plain view. 

Whether the searches conducted as part of the execution of a warrant were valid ones can be a very big issue in drug crime cases. This is because evidence discovered as a result of an invalid search, such as a warrant search that strayed outside of the areas specified by the warrant and which did not meet one of accepted exceptions (like the ones mentioned above), may be thrown out.  

Criminal defense attorneys can conduct investigations for drug crime defendants into whether the searches police performed in relation to their property were valid. This includes investigations into whether warrant searches police conducted strayed outside the bounds of the warrant and, if they did, whether the straying fell under any recognized exceptions. 

Source: FindLaw, "Searches and Seizures: The Limitations of the Police," Accessed Jan. 19, 2016

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