No one wants to become the subject of a criminal investigation. It’s a terrifying prospect and a confusing world to most people. Most everyone is familiar with the term “search warrant” but what does it really mean? What authority does it give law enforcement officers that they would otherwise not have?
How search warrants are issued
Both the U.S. Constitution and Hawaii state law protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally, this means police need a warrant supported by probable cause before they can search a person’s home. However, there are many exceptions to that rule, and police have much more leeway when it comes to searches that are not in a person’s home.
In Hawaii, law enforcement officers must appeal to a magistrate to get a search warrant. They must provide sworn affidavits to the judge detailing where they want to search and what they expect to find — and how they believe those places and things are connected to the commission of a crime. Based on those affidavits, if there is not probable cause to believe the grounds for the warrant exist, the judge cannot issue it.
What does the warrant let police do?
The application for a search warrant cannot be vague. It must describe all potential property and persons with particularity. By extension, this limits the authority of law enforcement once the warrant is issued. For instance, if the warrant is to search a specific car, they cannot search the car next to it based upon the warrant’s authority.
Similarly, law enforcement generally cannot seize property which is not described in the warrant. There are exceptions to this, such as when officers discover evidence of other crimes while executing the warrant.