Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Search Warrant Definition:

A court order that gives a police the permission to enter private property and to search for evidence of the commission of a crime, for the proceeds of crime or property that the police suspect may be used to commit a crime.

Related Terms: Knock and Announce Rule, Fourth Amendment, Knock and Talk, Plain View Doctrine, Search, Strip Search

These court orders are obtained on the basis of a sworn statement by the requesting law enforcement officer and will precisely describe the place to be searched and, in some cases, the exact property being sought.

In AG v MacIntyre, Justice Dickson wrote:

"A search warrant may be broadly defined as an order issued by a justice under statutory powers, authorizing a named person to enter a specified place to search for and seize specified property which will afford evidence of the actual or intended commission of a crime. A warrant may issue upon a sworn information and proof of reasonable grounds for its issuance. The property seized must be carried before the justice who issued the warrant to be dealt with by him according to law.

"Search warrants are part of the investigative pretrial process of the criminal law, often employed early in the investigation and before the identity of all of the suspects is known. Parliament, in furtherance of the public interest in effective investigation and prosecution of crime ... has legalized what would otherwise be an illegal entry of premises and illegal seizure of property.

"The issuance of a search warrant is a judicial act on the part of the justice, usually performed ex parte and in camera, by the very nature of the proceedings. The search warrant in recent years has become an increasingly important investigatory aid, as crime and criminals become increasingly sophisticated and the incidence of corporate white collar crime multiplies. The effectiveness of any search made pursuant to the issuance of a search warrant will depend much upon timing, upon the degree of confidentiality which attends the issuance of the warrant and upon the element of surprise which attends the search.

"As is often the case in a free society there are at work two conflicting public interests. The one has to do with civil liberties and the protection of the individual from interference with the enjoyment of his property. There is a clear and important social value in avoidance of arbitrary searches and unlawful seizures. The other, competing, interest lies in the effective detection and proof of crime and the prompt apprehension and conviction of offenders. Public protection, afforded by efficient and effective law enforcement, is enhanced through the proper use of search warrants."


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