Question: The police came to my house in Flagstaff with a “search warrant” and went inside my house without my permission. What is a search warrant? And how does it relate to “probable cause”? What is “probable cause” in Arizona? When is a search warrant issued?
Mr. Stevens’ Answer: You pose great questions. A search warrant is an order in writing issued in the name of the state, signed by a magistrate, directed to a law enforcement officer, commanding him to search for personal property, persons or items. See Arizona Revised Statute, section 13-3911. For a search warrant to be valid, it must be supported by probable cause. See Arizona Revised Statute, section 13-3913.
The term “probable cause” is a legal term of art that is best described as a standard of proof. Perhaps the best-known definition of probable cause is a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime, and in terms of a search warrant, that the items the police want to seize will likely be evidence of a crime. Under Arizona law, a search warrant may be issued upon any of the following grounds:
- When the property to be seized was stolen or embezzled.
- When the property or things to be seized were used as a means of committing a public offense.
- When the property or things to be seized are in the possession of a person having the intent to use them as a means of committing a public offense or in possession of another to whom he may have delivered it for the purpose of concealing it or preventing it being discovered.
- When property or things to be seized consist of any item or constitute any evidence which tends to show that a particular public offense has been committed, or tends to show that a particular person has committed the public offense.
- When the property is to be searched and inspected by an appropriate official in the interest of the public health, safety or welfare as part of an inspection program authorized by law.
- When the person sought is the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant. See Arizona Revised Statute, section 13-3912. There are many laws and cases (Arizona Supreme Court; Arizona Court of Appeals; and federal courts including the U.S. Supreme Court) relating to search warrants, including governmental limitations based upon one of the most important amendements in the U.S. Constitution, and that is the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
I encourage you to speak with a lawyer about your situation because there is a lot at stake and a lot you need to know about search warrants in Arizona. If the Flagstaff police are searching your house, you may be a suspect in a criminal investigation or otherwise related to the investigation in some way. Ask for a free consultation with an attorney. And good luck to you.