A search warrant is a document that authorizes law enforcement officers to search a specific location, like a person’s home, vehicle, or place of business. It must be issued by a judge. In order to obtain a search warrant, officers must prove that there is probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime can be found at a certain location.
Unfortunately, some searches in New Jersey are performed without proper justification. The police cannot search your property unless they have a warrant or have pointed to a valid exception. Even if they have a warrant, their search may still be invalid if the warrant is defective or faulty.
If you suspect that you may have been subjected to an improper search and seizure, seek guidance from our experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych by calling (609) 616-4956.
Applying for a Search Warrant in New Jersey
To obtain a search warrant in New Jersey, law enforcement officers must establish that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and that evidence of the crime can be found at the specified location. This process will involve drafting an affidavit and presenting it to a judge for judicial review.
The affidavit must be drafted by the officer seeking the search warrant. This affidavit should offer a detailed description of the circumstances and facts that support the officer’s belief that a crime has been committed and evidence of the crime can be found at a certain location. There are multiple types of evidence that can be used to support this affidavit. For example, such evidence may include witness testimony, surveillance recordings, physical evidence, and photographs.
After the officer has drafted their affidavit in support of their search warrant, the information will be presented to a judge for review. In order for the judge to issue a warrant, they must agree that all of the information provided by the affidavit supports the drafting officer’s claims. If the judge finds that probable cause requirements have been satisfied, then a warrant will likely be granted.
Executing a Search Warrant in New Jersey
Once a search warrant is issued, law enforcement officers are authorized to conduct a search of the requested location. There are several rules that apply to the execution of search warrants in New Jersey. Our experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorneys can help determine if any of the following rules were violated in your case:
When executing a search warrant in New Jersey, law enforcement officers typically must announce their presence and purpose before entering the location at issue. This is referred to as the “knock and announce” rule. Still, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, an officer may be able to procure a “no knock” warrant if their safety is at risk, if parties are likely to destroy pertinent evidence, or if they have obtained prior consent.
There is a certain time frame in which warrants must be executed. In New Jersey, searches must be performed within ten days from the date of a warrant’s issuance. However, in some cases, the judges who issue warrants can set forth different time frames. If the warrant is not executed before the applicable deadline, then it may be considered invalid.
Scope of the Search
Furthermore, when executing a search warrant, law enforcement officers have to limit their search to the areas and items specified in the applicable search warrant. They should not exceed the authorized scope of the search unless additional evidence or contraband is discovered in plain view during their search. Items that are located outside the scope of a search warrant will not be considered admissible evidence.
Use of Force
Finally, rules apply the use of force exhibited by officers when executing a search warrant. Officers may exercise reasonable force when performing a search. They are not permitted to unnecessarily damage property or abuse people. The use of force has to be avoided unless officers must utilize such force to protect themselves or prevent the destruction of important evidence.
Examples of When Officers Can Conduct Searches Without Warrants in New Jersey
While search warrants are often necessary for officers to search private property, there are certain situations where they are not required. In any case, the probable cause requirement must still be met for a search to take place. Examples of such so-called “exigent circumstances” include the following:
A search warrant is not required if a property owner consents to a search. For example, if you permit an officer to look through your car during a traffic stop, then they may perform that search without a warrant. Still, consent must be given freely and voluntarily, without any coercion or duress imposed by an officer.
Also, search warrants are not necessary in emergency situations. If there is an immediate safety threat or a threat that relevant evidence will be destroyed, then law enforcement officers may conduct a search without acquiring a warrant. For example, an officer may search the trunk of a suspect’s car if they hear screams coming from inside.
Searching for Privileged or Protected Information with a Search Warrant in New Jersey
Search warrants usually cannot be used to search for privileged information, such as attorney-client communications. This rule serves to safeguard certain confidential and privileged information from that may be indiscriminately accessed by law enforcement during a search.
Under this rule, if privileged or protected information is found during a search, then officers may not review or seize the materials at issue unless specific exceptions apply. Such exceptions include situations where the information itself is evidence of a crime or where there is a separate basis to believe that the applicable information was used to facilitate criminal activity.
If your property is going to be searched, it may benefit you to clearly identify and mark any materials that are considered privileged or protected.
Contact Our Attorneys for Help with Your Criminal Defense
If you have been accused of a crime, get help from our experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych by calling (609) 616-4956.