“Get a warrant, copper!”

It’s a phrase from the old 1940 film noir and while few people, if any, call police “coppers” anymore, the idea of having a person get a search warrant is still alive and well in Illinois. However, the ins and outs of what rights a person has or what police must do are still widely known

The U.S. and Illinois Constitutions protect a person against illegal searches and seizures. Police can not just go willy nilly into a person’s home and look for items. They can’t just go through a car without probable cause and they are barred, by law, from taking things without going through the proper steps. They have to get a warrant in most cases.

(Matt, if you want, the cite for the Illinois statute, warrants are about halfway down) http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?ActID=1966&ChapterID=54&SeqStart=10300000&SeqEnd=11900000

The idea is that a person, as a citizen of Illinois and the United States, has a reasonable expectation of privacy and police or government officials can’t violate that. That said, waving around a bag of marijuana on a busy street and then walking into a house, proclaiming “Free Pot” might negate that. Silly example of course, but it goes to the idea of probable cause. Police can do far more things if they think a crime has been committed or if they see evidence of criminal activity in plain view.

So what is a search warrant and how does it work? Warrants are legal documents that are requested by the police and issued by a judge. In those documents, an officer must give a reason or “probable cause” why they should be allowed to go into your house. In the Peoria area, search warrants are required to have an affidavit where the officer or officers give a brief summary of what they are looking or and why they think they should be allowed to go into a person’s house. A judge will then either grant the warrant or deny it.

The warrant must describe, with some detail, where the officer wants to look. There is a physical description of the house or property as well as some sense where they want to look within the house. There usually is a list of things they are looking for, though, that’s often a long and very generalized list.

That’s said, a warrant must be specific for what they are looking for. If they are looking for evidence of weapons and don’t list drugs, then any drugs found are off limits (until a new warrant is obtained). And if the warrant says they want to search the back yard of a house, then the actual interior is off limits (unless the officers can convince a judge to sign off on a new warrant).

In Peoria County, search warrants are filed as a public document in the Circuit Clerk’s office in nearly all cases. There are a few that are sealed but that’s not as common. In that search warrant file, there is the affidavit, the actual warrant signed by the judge and the inventory or what they found and took. Warrants can also be obtained to get a DNA sample, a blood or urine test or fingerprints in some cases.

Car searches are a bit different. An officer can go through your car in the passenger area if he or she has a reason to suspect a crime was committed or if a person in the car has been arrested. They can search the car where that person was sitting but they are barred from going into the trunk or into areas where a person couldn’t reasonably access during the alleged incident.

Of course, a person could also give the police consent to enter their house or to search their car, thus negating the need for a warrant. If you feel that your property was illegally searched or entered, tell the officer so but never – and we here at Miller Law Offices stress this – physically inhibit or interfere with the police. Just verbally tell them no or that you don’t consent. That matter could later come up in a motion to suppress or bar any evidence seized.

If you feel that you are a victim of an illegal search, try to remember the time and date when the search occurred, who the officers were and what their badge numbers were and anything else that could help your attorney challenge the search in court.

We here at Miller Law Offices take privacy and protecting your rights very seriously. We hold the police to the highest standards and demand they follow all proper procedures. And we will not stand by and allow them to trample upon the rights of our clients.

If you feel you have an issue, contact us. We are here and willing to listen.

(Matt, if you have any old links that might work here, that’d be good).