Before a law enforcement officer can search a location or a person, the court must issue a legal document that states the purpose of the search. This document is referred to as a search warrant. Search warrants provide law enforcement officers the right to search a person’s private property under the protection of a court order. This is done in order to obtain evidence in a lawful manner and to respect an individual’s right to privacy.
Before a court can issue a search warrant, the law enforcement officer or the prosecution’s legal counsel must provide probable cause to the judge. The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution ensures that there must be probable cause before a search warrant is issued. Ergo, it must be proven that a crime is being committed or has been committed at the location they wish to search. The Fourth Amendment specifies that the search must be reasonable and specific so as to properly indicate what items are specified. However, a search warrant limits the scope of the search, whether it is in terms of locations, rooms within a location, or the items to be sought.
There are exceptions to the need for a search warrant. A vehicle on a public road or in a non-residential area may be searched if the police suspect the vehicle to be carrying contraband items or criminal evidence. A person who is in possession of the item or who owns the property on which the search is conducted may give consent instead of being handed a search warrant.