How to Write a Search Warrant

By Byron Berger

A search warrant authorizes law enforcement officers to search a place or person and to seize evidence. A search warrant must contain (1) a particularized description of the place and person to be searched; (2) a particularized description of the thing or things to be seized; and (3) probable cause for the search and seizure.. An affidavit, which is a sworn statement under oath, lists the facts and circumstances believed to establish probable cause.

Provide a particularized description of the place or person to be searched. Examples include a house at a street address or a specific vehicle.

Provide a particularized description of the things to be seized. Examples include stolen televisions or weapons. A description such as "illegal materials" is too vague.

Draft an affidavit to convince the judicial officer that you have probable cause to execute the search warrant. According to National District Attorneys Association's American Prosecutor's Research Institute, include the following in an affidavit:

  1. Affiant's training and experience, based on current rank and experience as a law enforcement officer.

  2. Statute that is being alleged to be violated.

  3. Particularized description of place to be searched.

  4. Background information relevant to the things being searched for.

  5. Description of the investigation in as much detail as possible. This includes the source of information leading to the belief that a crime has been committed, and the particular facts supporting the belief.

  6. Particularized description and list of things to be seized.

  7. Summary paragraph stating why there is probable cause to believe the items to be seized will be found at the subject premises.

Have your supervisor review the search warrant application and affidavit.

Present the search warrant application and affidavit to the judicial officer for signature.

About the Author

Byron Berger is a licensed attorney and registered civil engineer. Since 1998, he has contributed articles to legal and engineering periodicals, including "ADC Comment" and "Philosophical Magazine." Berger holds a B.S. in materials engineering from Michigan Technological University, as well as a J.D. from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.

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