Wednesday, January 5, 2011

“THE POLICE ARE AT MY DOOR!”: WHEN THE POLICE HAVE A SEARCH WARRANT

You have just settled down to watch your favorite TV show, when there is a knock at the door. You ask who it is, and hear “Open up, police!”

Do the police need a warrant? What are your rights?

Under Illinois law, the police must request a search warrant from a judge to search your home for evidence except under certain circumstances. The police do not need a warrant if they have probable cause, and there are exigent circumstances, such as an emergency or the reasonable belief that someone inside needs aid. Other exigent circumstances include how recently the crime was committed, whether the suspect is armed or whether the suspect might escape if not quickly apprehended.

After police obtain a warrant, they must “knock and announce” their presence, unless they reasonably believe that doing so would be dangerous to themselves or others or would allow evidence to be destroyed.

Once the police knock at your door, you may ask to see the warrant. Any warrant must be particular and describe exactly what the police are looking for. The police are not allowed to go on a fishing expedition. Look to see what type of evidence they are seeking. For example, if they are looking for a stolen car or a suspect, they may not search your medicine cabinet, since the items they are seeking are too large to fit that small a space. The warrant must describe your premises reasonably correctly. If they have a warrant for your house and you have an unattached shed, they may not search the unattached shed.

The police, however, may take what they see in plain view. If they see drugs lying on the table, they can seize that evidence even if they were looking for a stolen TV or a person. One California case even held that police may look for marijuana plants growing in a fenced-in yard by flying over in an airplane!

If you have questions about a search warrant or other criminal matters, please contact Matt Keenan at matt@mattkeenanlaw.com or 847-568-0160.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves clients in the communities of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park, Kenilworth, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Palatine, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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