It's important to understand the difference between a California arrest warrant and a search warrant. Warrants are a common tool used by law enforcement to investigate and arrest anyone who is thought to have committed a crime. It's important to understand there are two main types of types of warrants – which are an arrest warrant and a search warrant.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense law often receives questions about the validity and function of these types of warrants. Thus, it's useful to provide a review of the function and purpose of each type as it relates to criminal defense.
An arrest warrant is an authorized document from a judge that allows law enforcement to arrest someone based on probable cause they committed a crime. Clearly, if law enforcement observed someone committing a crime – this would establish probable cause for an arrest – making a formal written request for a warrant unnecessary.
Arrest warrants are used in situations where a crime was not committed in the presence of law enforcement – such as in most cases where a crime was reported after the fact.
To give readers a better understanding on the difference between an arrest warrant and a search warrant, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys are providing an overview below;
Arrest Warrants in California
Arrest warrants have to be judicially authorized – meaning a law enforcement officer with information about an alleged crime will present the evidence to a judge in order to establish probable cause.
It will come in the form of a sworn declaration from the officer which details their suspicion that you have committed a crime. If the judge determines probable cause was established, they will sign the arrest warrant that includes your name, type of crime, county of issuance, and the name of the judge.
It's a myth police can't enter your home with only an arrest warrant. If law enforcement has lawfully obtained an arrest warrant, they can legally enter your home if they have a reasonable belief you are inside.
They are even allowed use force to enter your home – but if you are a guest in another home – they aren't legally allowed to execute the arrest warrant. In this situation, they would be required to obtain a search warrant.
In some cases, a warrant will be obtained directly by a Los Angeles District Attorney after a law enforcement detective presented a case to their office and they decided to file criminal charges. This is commonly known as “filing a case with a warrant, “meaning you could be arrested at any time. If you are arrested on this type of warrant, you will be transferred to a court for an arraignment within 48 hours, unless you bail out of custody.
Grand Jury Indictment
Another way for an arrest warrant to be issued is following a grand jury indictment - which are a panel of members of the public that make probable cause determinations – after hearing with evidence by a prosecutor.
The proceedings are in secret and if they determine enough evidence exists to charge you with a crime, they will issue an indictment. The judge who presides over the grand jury will issue an arrest warrant to accompany the indictment.
Search Warrants in California
Search warrants have a distinct function from an arrest warrant. They give law enforcement judicial authorization to search for a specific person, place, or items. If found in the search, it will be used as evidence a crime occurred. Police can request a search warrant in a similar process for an arrest warrant.
Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, a search warrant has to state particularity, the person or places that will be searched – and will only be issued it probable cause if established.
By law, a search warrant must be based on probable cause to believe that searching a specific person or place will result in relevant evidence being recovered. There is an exception for items found in plain view during a search – meaning illegal items clearly visible can be used against you.
For example, if law enforcement enters your home with a search warrant for a relative with an active arrest warrant – observe drugs on the table – they can lawfully seize them and you against you or the relative – even though the search warrant was limited to the relative.
Statement of Probable Cause for a Search Warrant
Probable cause for a search warrant has to be is established with a “probable cause statement” which is in the application and affidavit. A law enforcement officer can make a request for a search warrant from the court in a process similar to request an arrest warrant.
They will swear under oath to a judge they have evidence to believe that a crime occurred – and the search of a person or place is needed to obtain evidence.
If the judge who reviews the affidavit determines the probable cause standard was met, they will give authorization by signing the search warrant. After the search warrant has been signed, law enforcement will execute the warrant and conduct the search.
It should be noted there are some restrictions on law enforcement's ability to execute the warrant. For example, a search warrant will expire after a certain amount of time.
Also, search warrants can't be executed during certain hours – such as late night or without a knock and announce – but a judge could authorize a late night, no knock raid, if there are concerns over officer safety.
Motion to Suppress Evidence
Search warrants are often a target of a motion to suppress under California Penal Code 1538.5. The primary issue is that a search warrant has to be supported by probable cause.
If a judge determines later the warrant shouldn't have been authorized because it lacked sufficient evidence, they can suppress and exclude all seized items during the execution of the search warrant from the criminal case. There are some exceptions to this suppression rule – such as good faith by law enforcement.
If you or a family member were targeted with an arrest warrant or a search warrant, you need to consult with our criminal defense law firm about making a challenge to the process, possibly seeking suppression of evidence, and options of clearing the warrant.
We exclusively practice criminal defense and decades of combined experience in prefiling intervention, courtroom negotiations, and jury trials.
If you are under investigation, or already charged with a crime, contact our firm for help.