What is the Difference Between an Arrest Warrant and a Search Warrant?
A warrant is a legal document issued by a judge or a Grand Jury after probable cause, or some other legal standard is met. A warrant authorizes law enforcement to engage in some activity or process that would violate your constitutional rights under any other circumstance. Here are the differences between an arrest warrant and a search warrant:
An arrest warrant authorizes law enforcement to detain you and keep you in custody. It can be issued when law enforcement convinces a judge or a Grand Jury that there is probable cause to believe that something illegal has happened or is happening and that the subject of the arrest warrant was involved. An arrest warrant is usually based on sworn testimony or an affidavit submitted by an investigator or some other sworn law enforcement officer. The officer’s testimony can be based on their own observation or something another witness told them. Still, the officer’s testimony will always include the reason why the officer believes an arrest warrant should be issued. Any judge or Grand Jury reviewing the officer’s affidavit or listening to the officer’s testimony must believe that the totality of the circumstances indicate the facts contained in the officer’s testimony are valid and that an arrest warrant should be issued.
An arrest warrant is different than a search warrant, but if someone is arrested, then they can be searched incident to that arrest. That means the police can search a person after arresting them but before taking them to jail. However, neither having an arrest warrant nor the fact that someone got arrested gives law enforcement the authority to search the person’s home, car* or anything else (*there are a few legal exceptions that would allow law enforcement to search your car if you were in the car at the time of your arrest). If the police ask to search your home or car while you are being arrested, then you have the right to say no.
A search warrant authorizes law enforcement to search a specific location for specific evidence. It is obtained using the same process as an arrest warrant. For a search warrant to be issued, law enforcement officers must convince a judge or Grand Jury that a crime has been committed and that there is probable cause to believe evidence related to that crime is likely to be found in the target of the search warrant. Search warrants must describe, in detail, the specific location to be searched and the specific items to be recovered. The language contained within the search warrant can use no generalities, and it can leave no room for guessing or assumptions. If it does, then the application for the search warrant should be denied by the judge.
If the police come to your house with a search warrant, then you have the right to see the warrant before law enforcement conducts a search. You should always ask to see the warrant to make sure it is specific and includes your name, your address, the name of the judge that issued the warrant, the name of the agency conducting the search, a detailed description of the place to be searched, and a detailed description of the items being searched for. If the search warrant is missing any of these items, then you need to contact an attorney immediately because the search warrant may be invalid.
It’s important to note that law enforcement does not always need a warrant to arrest you or to search you. If a police officer witnesses you commit a crime, then they can arrest you without a warrant. Likewise, if an officer develops probable cause to believe you are in possession of illegal contraband, then they can search you without obtaining a search warrant. In fact, most arrests and searches do not involve a warrant.
If an officer obtains a warrant that was not based on probable cause, or if an officer conducts an arrest without probable cause, then someone’s constitutional rights may have been violated. At that point, their attorney can file pleadings with the appropriate court, either attacking the warrant or seeking the suppression of any evidence found during an illegal search. There are many more benefits to hiring an attorney if you feel your rights have been violated, and it’s important for you to choose the right attorney. Matthew Williams and the Law Office of Matthew Williams focus primarily on criminal defense and civil rights matters in the North Florida area, and they take pride in having a personal relationship with their clients. Attorney Williams treats his clients like family because he knows what they are dealing with is always more than just a case, and he refuses to let law enforcement, state attorneys, or the criminal justice system stand in the way of getting his clients the justice they deserve. He obtains the best results for his clients, and he’ll do the same for you. Give the Law Office of Matthew Williams a call now.