Search and Seizure FAQ

What are the police allowed to do after they obtain a search warrant?

Once the police have a search warrant, they are entitled to enter the designated property to search for the items listed on the warrant. Legally, the search is supposed to be confined to the specific areas described in the warrant. For example, if the search warrant includes only the living room, the search should not extend into the kitchen, bathroom or bedroom.

But there are exceptions to this limitation which are frequently used to justify broader searches. For example, the police may search beyond the terms of the warrant in order to:

  • ensure their safety and the safety of others
  • prevent the destruction of evidence
  • discover more about possible evidence or contraband that is in plain view elsewhere on the property, or
  • hunt for evidence or contraband that, as a result of their initial search, they believe exists in another location on the property.

For instance, although a warrant might be issued for the search of a house, the sound of a shotgun being loaded in the backyard would justify expanding the search to the yard in order to protect the officers; similarly, a search limited to the ground floor might legitimately expand to the upstairs if the police, searching for illegal drugs, hear toilets being flushed above. And the police can always seize evidence or illegal items if they are in plain view or are discovered while the officers are searching for the items listed in the warrant.

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