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Warrants and Searches for Crime Novelists

Busting into a suspect’s apartment and ransacking the place for any evidence that pertains to a crime is common in movies and TV shows. It’s an exciting scene, tense and suspenseful, but is it realistic?


Even officers entering a residence must have probable cause to do so, but when searching for evidence, they need a warrant. To apply for a warrant, they must establish probable cause, and write up an affidavit. Then they submit it to a judge, who must agree that there is probable cause in order to sign the warrant.


Search Warrants and Probable Cause


There are no set rules or laws that state what probable cause is, so make sure your reasoning makes enough sense for readers to believe the detective would be granted the warrant.


At minimum, the place to be searched must be owned or rented by a suspect. In order to call someone a suspect, there must be some evidence that indicates they may have perpetrated the crime. That could be witness statements or other physical evidence found prior to the affidavit that points to that person.


A witness’s statement must be reliable. Someone who was drunk at the time the statement was taken is not reliable.


Let’s say a diamond necklace was stolen from a jewelry store. Someone sees Joe Smith take an emerald necklace out of his pocket and place it in a box in his closet. The witness knows Joe doesn’t have the money to purchase jewels that expensive. They heard about the robbery on the news and call the police to report Joe. The witness reports what they saw when they saw Joe with the necklace and where.


From the jewelry store owner, the detective has a list of unique identifiers for that emerald necklace.


Joe was already on the detective’s suspect list as he had committed similar crimes and was seen near the jewelry store, close to the time of the crime.


These facts should be enough to submit an affidavit and get a warrant.


1.      The person was reported as being near the crime scene at the time of the crime.

2.      Witness testimony states he was seen with a necklace similar to the one stolen.

3.      Witness testimony states the place in which they saw the person with the necklace.

4.      The detective knows specific identifiers for the necklace or jewels within the necklace.

5.      The person seen with the necklace is a suspect.


The affidavit will state these specifics, the detective’s observations, and details of their investigation. The warrant should be granted as these facts support probable cause.





The police, exciting as a search scene is, cannot legally ransack Joe’s apartment upon arrival.


Joe’s apartment is a secondary crime scene and should be preserved. Gloves are worn by those searching, so fingerprints and other evidence can be collected from the emerald necklace if found.


Officers or detectives should head straight for the closet and look through any boxes within the closet. If they don’t find the necklace, they may search elsewhere in the apartment.


The plain view doctrine relies on the detective’s right to look at anything that is in plain view without opening or lifting anything.


It is not common for the police to dump the contents of drawers all over the floor. I’m sure it does happen, but not as much as is seen on TV.


Only items on the search warrant may be confiscated. If a diamond bracelet is found in Joe’s apartment, it cannot be seized. A new warrant must be applied for and issued before seizure.


An emerald necklace matching the description given by the jewelry story owner is found under Joe’s bed. Busted!


If present, Joe may be arrested at this time without a warrant, since the facts support a justifiable arrest. If Joe is not present, a warrant must be issued for his arrest.


Arrest Warrants


An arrest warrant must state the name of the suspect and the specific charge. While a person can be arrested by name alone, usually more information is required. I mean, how many Joe Smith’s are in New York City! Let’s make sure we have the right person.


Warrants could contain the suspect’s:


  • Name

  • Address

  • Driver’s license or identification number

  • Date of birth

  • Place of birth

  • Sex

  • Hair and eye color

  • Weight

  • Race

  • Ethnic origin

  • Visible scars or markings.


These pieces of information are to ensure the right person is arrested. We don’t want any ole Joe Smith. We want the Joe Smith who potentially committed the crime.


Facts and evidence are needed for warrants. Searches and seizures are specific and conducted methodically. Otherwise, the perpetrator could go free.


I hope you liked this post.


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Kristin Noland – Speculative and Crime Fiction Editor and Ghostwriter


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