If a police officer comes to my door with a search warrant, is it all over for me?

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If a police officer has a warrant to search your house, this does not necessarily mean that the evidence he or she finds will condemn you, or even be admissible in a case against you. A police officer must follow a complex procedure in order to obtain a search warrant, and the complexity can make the process susceptible to errors.

What is a search warrant, and what does it allow a police officer to do?  

A search warrant is an order signed by a judge that directs the owners of a private property to allow the police officer to enter and search for specific items named in the search warrant. A judge will not issue a search warrant unless he or she is convinced by the police that there is probable cause for the search. Reliable evidence must show that it is likely that a crime has occurred and the items sought by the police officer are connected with the crime and can be found at the location named in the search warrant.

Many errors are made on search warrant paperwork and on the sworn affidavits that form the basis for the judge's decision to issue the search warrant. Something as simple as a typo giving the wrong street address might make the evidence seized by the police officer inadmissible. Sometimes affidavits are based on intentionally false statements, and if the false statements are critical to the decision to issue the search warrant, this can also result in the evidence being excluded.

What should I do if a police officer comes to my door with a search warrant?

If a police officer comes to your home with a search warrant, kindly ask the officer to hold the warrant up to the window or ask him to slip it under the door. You should inspect the search warrant carefully before allowing the officers in. The search warrant should include your address. The warrant only allows the police officer to search the address listed on the warrant. Next, look for a list of areas or items. Officers can only search for the specified items and may only search in the areas listed on the search warrant.

In limited cases, a police officer may search without a search warrant, but the findings cannot be used at trial if the defense can show that the police officer had no probable cause for the search. 

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