What Does a Warrant Really Mean?

Most people are quite familiar with the word “warrant.”  We can see the drama play out on popular TV shows when the police hastily get a judge to issue one so that the proverbial bad guy can be caught.  This fictional characterization of criminal law doesn’t really tell us what a warrant really is and what our rights are if the police confront us with one.

There are two types of warrants issued, one for an arrest and one to conduct a search for evidence.  The reason law enforcement are required to get a warrant in most cases comes from the Constitution.  The Fourth Amendment protects everyone from unreasonable searches and seizures.  There are a few exceptions to the warrant requirement, though, which allow the police to make an arrest or conduct a search without one.  If you understand your rights, you will be able to protect them. Of course, your best defense will come from a qualified Illinois Defense Attorney, whom you should call if you have or suspect you may be the subject of a warrant.

Probable Cause

Whether police are required to get a warrant or not, there must always be probable cause for either an arrest or search.  Probable cause is defined as the reasonable belief, given the totality of the circumstances, that there is a fair probability a crime has or is being committed or that evidence of a crime will be found.  This definition is a bit convoluted, but it basically means that police cannot act without good cause, i.e. there has to be a likely probability that criminal activity is afoot.

Arrest Warrant

An arrest is considered the most intrusive because it involves the seizure of a person’s freedom.  So, the law requires that an arrest be reasonable; meaning that there must be probable cause that the person being arrested committed a crime.  If an arrest occurs in a public place, no warrant is required.  In order to enter private property, police must get consent, have a warrant, or be justified by a qualifying emergency.

Search Warrant

A search warrant can be sought to collect many things, including evidence of a crime, the fruits of a crime (like money or other property), items used to commit a crime, contraband, and to find someone sought to be arrested.  Warrants must be supported by probable cause and comply with other rules.  These are the sufficiency of the application, that it was properly issued, and properly executed.

There are many exceptions to the above that range from searches incident to arrest, vehicle searches, and stop-and-frisk warrant exemptions.  The police are given latitude to protect themselves and the public from immediate harm.  As you can see, warrants can be very complicated.  The rules governing warrants are many and are generally in place to protect citizens’ rights and prevent abuse of power by police. Given the complexity of the law, you should call a qualified Illinois Warrant Defense Attorney for assistance if you or someone you know has been issued a warrant.

Steven Goldman

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