Understanding Your Rights

How Can You Challenge a Search Warrant?

In criminal law, one of the most commonly used tools for cops and prosecutors to try to find evidence is the search warrant. Your first thought if someone is serving a warrant is likely to be about challenging it. Fortunately, there are a few ways in criminal defense law to do this.

On the Spot

First, be careful about pushing the issue too hard with the police. They are armed individuals, and the court tends to give them lots of forbearance for their decisions, including the use of force, during searches. Make your point, but don't endanger yourself to do so.

With all of that in mind, ask the officer in charge to provide you with the warrant. Do not attempt to impede the search. However, do a quick scan of the warrant for obvious mistakes. The cops and courts do screw up things like spellings, names, and addresses. If they're clearly in the wrong place, tell them as much. This doesn't guarantee they'll go away, but it does put it on the record.

Most likely, the cops will separate you from the searched area. They can't prevent you from calling your lawyer, though. Likewise, they can't turn off any surveillance systems unless they have a court order. Tell your lawyer what's happening and record what you can from where you're positioned. Also, make sure the police provide a receipt for any items they remove.


Your next best chance to challenge a search is likely to be at arraignment. If the cops charge you with an offense, they'll have to bring you before a judge to explain what the allegations are and why they think they have a case. Your attorney can raise questions about the nature of the search, including questioning officers connected with the warrant. If the judge isn't impressed, they might dismiss or reduce the charges. Similarly, the judge could order another hearing to learn more about the basis for the search.


Where things can get tricky is if the state doesn't charge you with anything. You can sue and ask a court for a hearing by asserting that the police violated your civil rights. Bear in mind that not all criminal attorneys handle this kind of case so you may have to hire a civil lawyer.


Your last chance before trial will be during the discovery process. The court will order the police to list all the evidence it might use at a trial. You can challenge the admission of the evidence if the search process was flawed.