A search warrant is an order signed by a judge that authorizes police officers to search a specific location and seize specific items found at that location. Unless police officers are protecting their own safety or feel like the destruction of evidence is imminent, they are not allowed to search outside the scope of the search warrant. In other words, the search warrant dictates the exact location where the officers can search. Additionally, the only way police officers can seize items not specified in the search warrant is if the items are in plain view during the course of the search. If a search is conducted without a valid search warrant, an individual’s fourth amendment protection from unreasonable searches and seizures is being violated.
In order to obtain a search warrant, a police officer must first submit a written affidavit to a neutral and detached judge in good faith. In the affidavit, the police officer must describe in detail what information he or she has that would authorize a search warrant. This information could include his or her own observations, the observations of a private citizen, or the observations of a police informant. Furthermore, this information must detail the place to be searched and the items to be seized. If the judge feels like the affidavit shows probable cause that criminal activity is occurring at the place to be searched or that evidence of a crime may be found there, he or she will issue the search warrant.