What is a warrant and what should you do if served one?
What is a warrant, and what can you do if served one? Do you have any rights in this kind of situation?
A warrant is a legal order granted by a judge, giving police authority to search you, your home and your car, or even place you under arrest. In order to obtain a warrant, law enforcement authorities need to have probable cause for the search, any seizure of property and to make an arrest. There are two basic types of warrants in criminal cases: arrest and search.
An arrest warrant on its own does not grant officers the right to search your home or property, and a search warrant does not grant the right to issue an arrest. If police have a search warrant in hand, they can perform a search without your consent. If they cannot show you that they have a warrant, you have the right to refuse. If you are not home and a roommate or other member of the household gives consent, police are allowed to enter the property.
What to do
If you find yourself at home and officers show up wanting to talk to you or someone else in your household or search your home, here are a few tips from the American Civil Liberties Union on how to handle the situation:
- Do not open the door; instead, talk through the door.
- Ask if the officers have a warrant and if you can see it.
- If there is a warrant, check it for errors — such as wrong address or wrong name.
- Do not consent to a search if there is no warrant or the warrant is not accurate.
- Do not interfere if the officers choose to perform a search even after you object.
- Take notes about the search and gather any witness statements.
Aside from a brief exchange with an officer about the warrant, there is nothing else you have to talk to him or her about. It is not a requirement that you answer any of their questions.
Many police officers will try to get your consent to search before going to court to get a warrant. It can save them time and is less of a hassle. You do not have to give consent to a search, though. They can threaten to return with a warrant, but there is no guarantee that a judge will grant one to them.
At the end of the day, if an officer serves you with a warrant and it seems to be in good order, cooperating with police will go a long way in helping your case. If there is no warrant, police cannot punish you for refusing the search. You have the right to protect yourself.