Can the police look anywhere in a home with a search warrant?

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Written By: Jeffrey JohnsonUPDATED: Jul 16, 2021Fact Checked

Actually, the police might not be able to search anywhere just because they have a search warrant, there is a requirement that a warrant describe specifically the place to be searched and the items to be seized. Although it is possible that a warrant will give police a general license to search anywhere in a home, it is also possible that the search might be limited to specific areas in the home.

The police can look anywhere that the warrant permits them to look. The scope of any warrant is limited or expanded by the authorization contained within the warrant. When the officers come to your door, ask to see the warrant in advance and have them point out the section which identifies your house. If you live in apartment 1-A, but the warrant is for apartment 1-B, politely direct the officers to the next apartment. Believe it or not, law enforcement have been known to read warrants incorrectly and search the wrong house by accident, or, the warrant may be for your home but have the address of another home identified. Either way, point out the error. If the address is wrong, the police don’t have a search warrant.

Search Warrant Requirements

If the address contained in the warrant is your address, skim the warrant paperwork for any limitations. If the warrant only authorizes officers to search your garage, they cannot enter your home, only your garage. But note that if the warrant permits a search of your house, the converse may not be true. Some states define “house” as to include the physical structure of your home and anything attached to it, like your garage. Consult with a criminal attorney in your state to see which rule applies to your situation.

Once the police are in the proper location, they can search only for the types of evidence identified in the warrant in places within your home that the evidence could be located. For example, if the warrant says the police are permitted to search your home for anti-assault weapons, they cannot open your ring box in the back of your sock drawer. The phrase used to explain this is: the police cannot look for an elephant in a matchbox. This is the general rule. However, most search warrants are so broadly written, that the police can usually get away with looking just about anywhere. This rule also does not prohibit “plain view” sweeps. For example, if while on the way to a bedroom to look for assault rifles in your closet, the police notice a bowl of marijuana sitting on your living room table, they can seize the marijuana as contraband that is openly visible. They are not required to ignore it just because it is not identified in the warrant.

What to Do When Faced With a Proper Search Warrant

The best thing to do when served with a search warrant is to sit there, don’t talk to the police while they go through your things. Another good thing to do is NOT look at the place you wish they would not search. At least one officer will probably be assigned to watch your actions during the search. If you pay attention to a particular location, they will notice your preoccupation and search that area. Once they have finished their search, call an attorney after they leave. An attorney can help ensure that none of your constitutional rights were violated.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

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