What Are the Requirements for a Search Warrant in Minnesota?

The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution protects citizens from unlawful search and seizure of private property. However, with a search warrant, law enforcement officers can legally enter your private dwelling, search for evidence, and use that evidence against you in a court of law.

Law enforcement agencies can’t just serve a search warrant to anyone, though. There are specific requirements for when officers can obtain search warrants. Rule 36 of the Minnesota Statutes allows law enforcement officers to execute searches and seizures of private property if there is probable cause.

What does “probable cause” mean? And if a law enforcement officer does have probable cause to obtain a search warrant, what is he or she allowed to do and not to do while executing that warrant? We’re answering these two questions and more in this guide to the requirements for a search warrant in Minnesota.


What Exactly Is a Search Warrant in Minnesota?

Minnesota search warrants are legal documents. Judges grant these legal documents to law enforcement officers for one of two reasons:

  1. The officer needs the authority to arrest someone for a crime (an arrest warrant)
  2. The officer needs to search someone’s home or property to obtain evidence of a crime (a search warrant)

Arrest warrants are necessary when individuals charged with crimes fail to or refuse to surrender to law enforcement. Arrest warrants come after search warrants because the former requires the officer to have evidence of the person’s crime already.

Search warrants are similar to arrest warrants in that they grant authority to law enforcement agents. The end goal of a search warrant is also the same — to charge someone with a crime — but the method is different. Search warrants allow officers to search for and seize evidence of a suspect’s criminal offense.

As you can see, the big difference between these two types of warrants is the process through which law enforcement officers must obtain and execute the search warrant. Specifically, officers must have “probable cause” to execute a search warrant, while, with an arrest warrant, they already have most or all the evidence needed to charge the suspect.


Probable Cause: Explained

As we mentioned above, the Fourth Amendment allows for searches and seizures of private property as long as there is probable cause. In the US and Minnesota, specifically, “probable cause” is equal to a search warrant.

All a law enforcement officer needs to obtain a search warrant is a strong suspicion that a suspect committed a crime. The officer must also reasonably believe that, upon executing the search warrant, he or she will obtain evidence of that crime being committed.

Of course, a judge has to agree with the enforcement officer’s line of reasoning and/or evidence before issuing the warrant.


Search Warrant Tiers in Minnesota

Minnesota divides search warrants into three tiers. Each tier has different requirements for obtaining the warrant, which we’re talking about below.


Tier 1 Search Warrants

Officers file for Tier 1 search warrants in situations that present little to no threat of harm to the officer or the public. Typically, the threat of harm is low because the suspected criminal won’t be present at the time of the search. For this reason, only the officer requesting the warrant must be present at the time he or she executes the warrant.

Law enforcement might seek a Tier 1 search warrant in the following situations:

  • Searching bank records
  • Searching safety deposit boxes
  • Searching cell phone records
  • Searching impounded cars
  • Searching social media accounts
  • Searching medical records

Officers can also request a Tier 1 search warrant to obtain someone’s DNA after an alleged sexual assault. However, the suspect must already be in police custody. If he or she is not in police custody, a judge will mandate a Tier 2 or even Tier 3 warrant.


Tier 2 Search Warrants

If executing a search warrant presents even a small threat or chance of harm to the public or law officers, the judge will mandate a Tier 2 warrant.

When deciding on Tier 2 vs. Tier 1 search warrants, enforcement agencies take the following factors into account:

  • The type and severity of the crime
  • Aggravating factors (e.g., a weapon)
  • How long ago the crime was committed
  • The level of intelligence collected about the suspect
  • The level of intelligence collected about the location where the warrant will be executed
  • Whether the suspect is in police custody or at large
  • Whether the suspected criminal has a history of violence
  • Whether the location of the search warrant or the suspected criminal presents a risk to the public or law enforcement officers

To obtain one of these warrants, enforcement officers must first complete a Threat Assessment form. The division commander must review the warrant jointly with the local SWAT commander. If approved, the warrant then goes to the local police Chief for approval.

Officers trained in executing search warrants and at least one supervisor must be present during the execution of a Tier 2 search warrant.


Tier 3 Search Warrants

Executing some search warrants is highly risky, whether because of the nature of the suspect or the location where the warrant will be served. That’s why a SWAT team and the SWAT commander must serve this type of search warrant.

There are typically three reasons why police might upgrade a search warrant to Tier 3:

  1. The suspected crime involved a weapon
  2. The suspected criminal is not currently in police custody, and he or she will be present during the search OR his or her whereabouts are unknown
  3. Law enforcement knows specific information about the suspected criminal that creates a reasonable need for a Tier 3 warrant

The process of obtaining a Tier 3 search warrant is the same as that for a Tier 2 warrant. However, the requirements for executing Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 search warrants differ.


3 Requirements for Executing a Search Warrant in Minnesota

Minnesota law enforcement officers don’t just have to follow rules about filing for warrants. They also have specific requirements for serving a search warrant. If they don’t abide by these requirements, a criminal defense lawyer can convince the judge to throw out the case.

Here are three requirements for executing search warrants that Minnesota law enforcement agencies must follow.


1. The Time the Warrant Is Served

When police obtain a search warrant, the judge will designate a time during which the search must take place. In Minnesota, the only time law enforcement can serve a search warrant is between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The only exception to this requirement is if the judge believes delaying a search will compromise the evidence, and a nighttime search is required. A judge might also issue a nighttime search warrant if he or she believes it will protect the public and/or the officers.

To be legally enforceable, the search warrant must state the time of service, and officers must actually serve the warrant at that exact time.


2. Procedural Rules

Procedural rules for executing search warrants vary by tier.

Tier 1 search warrants have the laxest procedural rules. Procedural requirements include that officers must take before and after photographs of the location and must photograph any items confiscated during the search.

Most importantly, the law enforcement officer who serves the warrant must provide a copy of the warrant to the person who owns the property. The officer must also provide a receipt of the items taken during the search. If no one is at the property during the search, officers must leave the warrant and the receipt at the scene.

Tier 2 search warrants must also abide by the above procedures. Additionally, law enforcement officers must announce themselves before entering the property and continue to do so throughout the duration of the search. This is a requirement for both knock and no-knock search warrants.

Tier 3 search warrants have the same requirements as Tier 2 and Tier 1 warrants. The only difference between Tier 2 and Tier 3 search warrant processes is that a SWAT team will execute a Tier 3 warrant rather than a police officer or detective.


3. Jurisdiction

Law enforcement agencies can’t serve search warrants outside of their jurisdiction without prior permission. For example, a Minnetonka police officer can’t execute a search warrant in Brainerd without receiving a request for assistance from Brainerd police.

Using the same example, Minnetonka police could request to assist with a Brainerd search warrant. However, if Brainerd law enforcement agencies refuse the assistance, the Minnetonka police don’t have jurisdiction.


Can Law Enforcement Conduct a Search Without a Warrant?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes. In Minnesota, a law enforcement officer can conduct a search if he or she has an “articulable reason.” An articulable reason means the officer can explain why they were suspicious and why that suspicion required the search.

For example, say someone is driving under the influence and fails to come to a full and complete stop at an intersection. If an officer sees the person violate traffic signals, he or she can pull that person over. If the officer then sees an open container of alcohol in the vehicle, that’s enough probable cause to conduct a search and, potentially, make an arrest.


Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Minnesota?

Search warrants are legal documents giving law enforcement officers the authority to conduct searches and seizures of private property. However, police must follow specific requirements for a search warrant in Minnesota to be legal.

If you’re arrested after law enforcement executes a search warrant, a criminal defense attorney can help defend your rights. Call Carlson and Jones to schedule a free consultation today!

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