The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of people “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Fourth Amendment does allow reasonable searches and seizures so long as police have valid warrants issued based upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation (part of the affidavit for the warrant that includes a police officer’s statement of why probable cause exists), and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
When law enforcement executes a search warrant in Texas, the process can be extremely overwhelming and confusing for people who are subjects of these searches. These people often have their homes ripped apart and all electronic devices confiscated with very little to no idea what their rights are.
Houston Search Warrants Lawyer
If you were arrested or your home or business has been the subject of a police search, you should immediately seek legal representation. Horak Law can review whether you were the victim of an unlawful search and seek to have certain forms of evidence suppressed so it is inadmissible at any trial.
Harris County search warrant attorney Matt Horak represents clients all over the greater Houston area, including Galveston, Sugar Land, Pasadena, League City, Spring, Missouri City, Conroe, The Woodlands, Pearland, and Richmond-Rosenberg. He can give you an honest and thorough evaluation of your case as soon as you call our firm at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 to arrange a free initial consultation.
Harris County Search Warrants Information Center
- How do these kinds of warrants get issued?
- What happens when police execute searches using these warrants?
- Are warrants always required for police searches?
- What kinds of mistakes might lead to warrants being invalid?
- When might a warrant be improperly issued?
The process and requirements of obtaining this kind of warrant are established under Chapter 18 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. In order for a search warrant to be issued in the Lone Star State, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 18.01(b) states sufficient facts must be “first presented to satisfy the issuing magistrate that probable cause does, in fact, exist for its issuance.”
Police officers will attempt to obtain search warrants from magistrates when they have probable cause to believe that criminal activity is currently occurring at a location to be searched or evidence of a crime can be found in that place. Every law enforcement request for a search warrant must include the filing of a sworn affidavit which sets forth sufficient facts to establish probable cause:
- that a specific offense has been committed;
- that a specifically described person has been a victim of the offense;
- that evidence of the offense or evidence that a particular person committed the offense can be detected by photographic means; and
- that the person to be searched for and photographed is located at the particular place to be searched.
After this type of warrant has been issued, police officers are required under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 18.06 to “execute the warrant without delay and forthwith return the warrant to the proper magistrate.”
The officer who executes the warrant is required to present a copy of the warrant to the owner or other person in possession of the place being searched, and the officer also must prepare a written inventory of the property to be taken to give to the owner or other person in possession of the property.
If neither the owner nor a person in possession of the property is present when an officer executes the warrant, that officer will leave a copy of the warrant and the inventory at the place that has been searched.
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 18.02 states that warrants can be issued to search for and seize:
- Property acquired by theft or in any other illegal manner;
- Property specially designed, made, or adapted for or commonly used in the commission of a criminal offense;
- Arms and munitions kept or prepared for the purposes of insurrection or riot;
- Prohibited weapons;
- Gambling devices or equipment, altered gambling equipment, or gambling paraphernalia;
- Obscene materials kept or prepared for commercial distribution or exhibition;
- A drug, controlled substance, immediate precursor, chemical precursor, or other controlled substance property, including an illegally kept, prepared, or manufactured apparatus or paraphernalia;
- Any illegally possessed property;
- Implements or instruments used in the commission of a crime;
- Property or items, except the personal writings by the accused, constituting evidence of an offense or constituting evidence tending to show that a particular person committed an offense;
- Contraband subject to forfeiture; or
- Electronic customer data held in electronic storage.
It is important to understand that not all police searches require warrants. In a variety of cases, law enforcement officers may claim that exigent circumstances—exceptions to the Fourth Amendment requirements—existed when probable cause justified a search but there was not a sufficient amount of time in order to obtain a warrant.
Some examples of when exigent circumstances may be claimed to justify a warrantless search include:
- “Hot pursuit” of an alleged offender;
- Protection of life and property;
- To prevent the destruction of evidence;
- To prevent the escape of an alleged offender;
- To search for additional alleged offenders; or
- When alleged offenders arm themselves.
Texas law provides for several other situations in which searches may be conducted without any violation of the Fourth Amendment. Additional examples may include:
- Consent Searches — Police will frequently attempt to get alleged offenders to consent to searches of their persons or property because many people are simply unaware that they have the right to refuse and officers are under no obligation to inform them of this right. This is especially common when law enforcement has been unable to establish the probable cause necessary to obtain a search warrant.
- Plain View Doctrine — If evidence of a crime or contraband is in the plain view of a police officer, then he or she does not need a warrant to seize it.
- Stop and Frisk — A law enforcement officer is allowed to stop and frisk a person when there is reasonable suspicion of that person could be armed and dangerous or has committed a criminal act. Reasonable suspicion is not as difficult a burden to meet as probable cause, but still must have some basis justifying the search.
- Searches Incident to Arrest — Following any lawful arrest, a police officer is not required to obtain a warrant in order to search the alleged offender and the area that was within his or her immediate control.
Not all warrants for searches are necessarily valid. While police officers will frequently be protected to for acting in “good faith,” there are occasions in which dishonesty or egregious oversights may result in warrants being illegitimate.
Evidence that is obtained without a valid search warrant will often be suppressed. Some of the additional reasons that evidence may be suppressed after a search warrant include:
- Application not made under oath;
- Lack of probable cause;
- False statements or questionable motives of information source or confidential informant;
- Property searched or seized was not specified in warrant;
- Failure to provide written inventory or other criminal procedure errors.
Search and Seizure | American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — This section of the ACLU website is dedicated to Fourth Amendment issues. You can find blogs, videos, press releases, feature stories, court cases, and various reports. There is also a “Know Your Rights” section dedicated to tips for people to keep in mind when dealing with police.
Your 4th Amendment Rights - Judicial Learning Center — This website provides an overview of the Fourth Amendment, including specific case studies. There is also a “Student Challenge” that tests your knowledge of the constitutional amendment.
Find a Lawyer for Search Warrants in Houston
Was your home or business recently the subject of a warranted search? You will want to seek the help of experienced legal counsel. Matt Horak is a criminal defense attorney in Houston, TX who can fully investigate to determine whether a warrant was lawfully issued and how to regain your property or have evidence against you suppressed at a criminal trial.
Horak Law serves Waller County, Brazoria County, Galveston County, Harris County, Liberty County, Fort Bend County, and Montgomery County. Our Harris County search warrant attorney can review your case during a free, confidential consultation as soon as you contact our firm today at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009.