Michigan residents are protected against unreasonable search and seizure by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights. While police officers are permitted to conduct warrantless searches in certain specific situations, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that searches of vehicles, residences or offices should be conducted pursuant to a legally executed search warrant whenever possible.
Search warrants are written orders signed by a judge or a magistrate that authorize police officers to conduct searches, seize evidence or take suspects into custody. When these actions are taken without a valid warrant, they are presumed to be invalid and police must provide evidence to prove that their actions were reasonable. Search warrants should only be issued when police officers can provide facts and circumstances that show probable cause exists to believe that evidence of previous or ongoing criminal activity will be uncovered.
While probable cause can be established with statements made by questionable sources such as coconspirators or confidential informants, it cannot be based solely on a police officer’s instincts or suspicions. Once the probable cause statement has been made, the police officer involved must swear orally or in writing that it is true to the best of his or her knowledge. When the probable cause statement is revealed to be false or misleading, the search may still be deemed legitimate if the police officer involved acted in good faith.
The Fourth Amendment requires search warrants to be specific and include a description of the person or place to be searched. They also generally list the type of evidence being sought and where police expect to find it. When police officers exceed the scope of search warrants, experienced criminal law attorneys may question the validity of the search and seek to have the evidence recovered excluded.