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What are the limitations on a search warrant?


When prosecutors seek to charge an individual with a crime, whether for murder, burglary, or drug trafficking, they must base their allegations on some sort of evidence. Evidence is the foundation of a criminal case, and is often the pivotal information that could cause an individual to be slapped with harsh penalties like prison and harsh fines. Therefore, it is important for those under investigation and those facing criminal charges to understand evidence, how it can be collected, and when it may be inadmissible against them.

Ordinarily, law enforcement agents need a search warrant before they can search a suspect's home, although there are many exceptions to that rule. Federal law indicates that law enforcement must specify several things when they seek a warrant, which will limit what they can do with it. For example, the warrant must specify with certainty the person or property that is to be searched and the property that may potentially be seized. These items must be specific, as any over-generalized identifications may render the warrant invalid.

Other requirements limit law enforcement actions when it comes to search and seizures. Warrants must be carried out within 14 days of issuance, warrants must be executed during the daytime unless a judge finds good cause for it to be executed otherwise, and the warrant must be returned to the judge after it has been used.

The requirements for obtaining and carrying out a warrant are intentionally stringent. They are intended to balance personal privacy interests with the interests of justice. This means that any mistake in the legal process could render a search illegal. When this happens, any evidence seized may be deemed inadmissible against a criminal defendant, sometimes essentially destroying the foundation of the prosecutor's case. With such power, those who are accused of drug crimes and other offenses based on solid evidence should speak with a legal professional about the validity of any searches and seizures that were conducted.

Source: Legal Information Institute, "Rule 41. Search and Seizure," accessed on July 24, 2015

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