Search Warrants

What happens if law enforcement officers come to your property to execute a search warrant? In Florida, search warrants are served in a wide variety of criminal cases both at the state and federal level including:

  • white-collar crimes;
  • drug trafficking crimes;
  • firearm or weapon charges;
  • child pornography offenses; or
  • computer crimes or cybercrimes.

Search warrants can also be issued to take a blood sample from a suspect or to search a vehicle after a crash. Click here to read more about the rules regarding search warrants in Florida.

Attorneys for Search Warrants in Tampa, FL

If you were served with a search warrant and your property was seized during its execution, immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Never make a statement to any law enforcement officer until you have spoken with an attorney. To invoke your right to remain silent under the 5th and 6th Amendments, you can say:

“I am invoking my right to an attorney and my right to remain silent until my attorney is present.”

Then remain silent. If you are arrested, you can provide your name, date of birth, and other basic biographical information such as your address, but you are not required to make any other statement.

Call us at (813) 250-0500 to discuss your case.

Rules for Florida Search Under Chapter 933

Under Chapter 933, F.S., Florida law dictates when a judge is authorized to issue a search warrant can be issued to a law enforcement officer. The judge must determine whether probable cause is established in the application made under oath.

Under Section 933.06, F.S., the search warrant must “set forth the facts tending to establish the grounds of the application or probable cause for believing that they exist.”

The application for the search warrant must particularly describe the place to be searched and the person and thing to be seized.

The judge must find probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant. The grounds for the issuance of a search warrant include:

  • When the property has been stolen or embezzled in violation of law;
  • When any property has been used as a means to commit any crime;
  • When any property constitutes evidence relevant to proving that a felony has been committed;
  • When any property is being held or possessed:
    • In violation of any of the laws prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transportation of
      intoxicating liquors;
    • In violation of the fish and game laws;
    • In violation of the laws relative to food and drug; or
    • In violation of the laws relative to citrus disease pursuant to s. 581.184, F.S.; or
  • When the laws in relation to cruelty to animals, as provided in ch. 828, F.S., have been or are violated in any particular building or place; or
  • An instrumentality or means by which sexual cyberharassment has been committed in violation of s. 784.049, F.S., or evidence relevant to proving that sexual cyberharassment has been committed in violation of s. 784.049, F.S., is contained therein.

A search warrant may also be issued to search for and seize “any papers or documents used as a means of or in aid of the commission of any offense against the laws of the state.” See Section 933.18, F.S.

Execution of a Search Warrant in a Private Dwelling

The grounds for issuing a search warrant for a private dwelling are limited. A search warrant may not be issued for a private dwelling under ch. 933, F.S., or any other law of the state unless the search warrant is being used for:

  • the unlawful sale, possession, or manufacture of intoxicating liquor;
  • stolen or embezzled property is contained therein;
  • to carry on gambling;
  • to perpetrate frauds and swindles;
  • to committed crimes related to narcotics or drug abuse;
  • a weapon, instrumentality, or means by which a felony has been committed, or evidence
    relevant to proving said felony has been committed, is contained therein.

A search warrant for a private dwelling might also be issued if:

  • one or more of the following child abuse offenses is being committed there:
    • interference with custody, in violation of s. 787.03, F.S.;
    • commission of an unnatural and lascivious act with a child, in violation of s. 800.02, F.S.; or
    • exposure of sexual organs to a child, in violation of s. 800.03, F.S.

Exceptions exist to these rules if:

  • part of the private dwelling is being used for some business purpose such as a store, shop, saloon, restaurant, hotel, boardinghouse, or lodging house; or
  • the dwelling is being used for the unlawful sale, possession, or purchase of wildlife, saltwater products, or freshwater fish being unlawfully kept therein.

What Happens After the Search Warrant is Executed in Florida?

After a law enforcement officer executes a search warrant, the officer must bring the property seized and any person arrested in connection with the property before the judge or another court having jurisdiction of the offense as required by Section 933.07(1), F.S.

The officer must deliver to the person whose property was taken under the search warrant:

  • a copy of the search warrant; and
  • an inventory of any property seized during the execution of the warrant.

If no one is there, the officer can leave a copy of the search warrant and the inventory form on the premises.  Then the search warrant and a sworn copy of any required inventory must be returned to the judge.

TPD’s Procedures for Executing Search Warrants

The Standard Operating Procedures of the Tampa Police Department are dated November 22, 2011, and supersedes SOP 821, dated 6/06. As a general principle, the Tampa Police Department’s standard operating procedures provide that:

“[i]n general, a search of premises, a vehicle, or a person should not be conducted without first obtaining a search warrant.”

The grounds for issuance of a search warrant include a presentation by a police officer to a neutral judge or magistrate of information, in the form of a sworn affidavit which constitutes probable cause to believe that evidence of an offense is likely to be found at a specific location identified in the warrant.

The following are grounds for the issuance of a warrant:

  • When the property shall have been stolen or embezzled in violation of law;
  • When property shall have been used as a means to commit a crime; or
  • When any property constitutes evidence relevant to proving that a felony has been committed.

Despite these standard operating procedures, law enforcement officers with Tampa Police Department will often seize and tow vehicles during “hit and run” investigations claiming that the vehicles were left in plain view (even though the vehicles are parked in the owner’s driveway).

The officers will then not release the vehicle until the owner cooperates with the criminal investigation by helping the officers find evidence related to criminal charges for leaving the crash scene.

Criminal defense attorneys in Tampa often get the TPD officers to release the hold within an hour by making a few phone calls, but the practice is widely considered to be illegal within the criminal defense community.

To have these procedures declared illegal by the court, a person can file a replevin action in court to get the property back and have the court find that the taking was illegal from its inception. If your vehicle was illegally towed by TPD then call us to discuss the case.

Search Warrants for Violations of Florida’s Narcotics Laws

An affidavit does not establish probable cause for the issuance of a warrant under provision when it only alleges that marijuana was observed growing on the property surrounding the residence (often called “cultivation of marijuana”) and does not allege that a violation of the narcotics law existed within the residence.

The Affidavit for the Search Warrant must be based upon a duly sworn to and subscribed to an affidavit which sets forth facts to establish probable cause to believe that the property sought to be seized is upon the premises, person, or vehicle to be searched.

A search warrant must describe the place to be searched with sufficient particularity so that a reasonable person who is unfamiliar with the investigation could read the description and find the premises, person or vehicle to be searched.

A search warrant must particularly describe the property sought to be seized.

A confidential source (often called a “confidential informant”) can provide sufficient probable cause upon which to base a sworn affidavit for a search warrant.

When an informant’s information is used to support a search warrant, the sworn affidavit must set out supporting facts, which show the judge, why the confidential informant should be believed:

  • The past reliability of the information provided by the informant;
  • The source of the informant’s knowledge;
  • The specific information; and
  • Independent police corroboration of the information.

Mere conclusions of an informant are insufficient to support a search warrant.

Execution of a Search Warrant in Florida

A search warrant and its attendant sworn affidavit must be reviewed and signed by a judge and must be executed and returned to the judge within ten days after its issuance.

“Knock and Announce” is still required in Florida. Florida’s “knock and announce” rule under Section 933.09 and Section 901.19 both impose a “salutary requirement of knock and announce, and both are grounded in the same policy considerations…” Van Allen v. State, 454 So. 2d 49, 50 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984). In Albritton v. State, 634 So. 2d 1114, 1117 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994), the court acknowledged that the two knock-and-announce statutes are “substantially similar.”

An officer engaged in the execution of a search warrant must notify those within the residence of the officer’s presence by knocking, or some other reasonable means, and announce his authority and the purpose of his presence before breaking in.

An officer executing a search warrant may break open any outer door, inner door, or window of a house, or any part of a house or anything therein, to execute the warrant if, after giving due notice of his authority and purpose, he is refused admission to the house or access to anything therein.

Exceptions to the “knock and announce” requirement might include:

  • The person within already knows of the officer’s authority and purpose.
  • The officers are justified in the belief that the persons within are in imminent peril or bodily harm.
  • The officer’s peril would have been increased had he demanded entrance and stated his purpose.
  • Those within, made aware of someone outside, are engaged in activities that justify the belief that an escape or destruction of evidence is being attempted, and that evidence would be destroyed if the officers announced their presence.

Reports in Search Warrant Cases in Tampa, FL

All searches of persons, structures, or vehicles must be fully documented, even if no evidence or other items of interest are revealed by the search. Documentation must include:

  1. The legal basis for the search;
  2. The area covered during the search;
  3. The type of items for which the search was conducted; and
  4. A description of all items of interest located or a statement that nothing was found.

If no offense report results from an investigation and search, the search may be documented in an information report or a street check. See Legal Bulletin No.11- 16.

Disclosure of the Search Warrant Affidavit to the Criminal Defense Attorney

Search warrants and their returns may be exempt from public disclosure if they are part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Section 119.07(3)(b), Fla. Stat.

An applicant for access to search warrant records (application) shall apply in writing to the proper office, which is usually the clerk’s office, pursuant to the procedures outlined in the local rules.

The Clerk of Courts shall disclose these records unless the State Attorney’s Office or law enforcement agency involved in the search warrant contends that it is part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Disagreements are resolved before the judge who issued the search warrant upon filing a motion by any affected party seeking a determination of the status of the criminal investigation involving the warrant.

Additional Resources

Florida Law on Search Warrants – Visit the website of the Florida Legislature to read the statutory language contained in Florida Statute 933.02. The statute provides the grounds for issuing a search warrant in Florida. Find other statutes under Chapter 933 that apply to criminal procedures and laws related to search and inspection warrants in the State of Florida.

Search for Wanted Persons in Florida – If you need to find out if a warrant has been issued for your arrest in a felony or misdemeanor case in Florida, visit the website of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Read more about how to find search for a warrant on the FDLE website.

Finding a Search Warrant Lawyer in Tampa, FL

If law enforcement officers in Tampa or Hillsborough County served a search warrant at your home or office and seized physical items, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm.

Never make a statement to a law enforcement officer without having an attorney present for the interrogation. In some cases, all evidence seized in response to the search warrant can be suppressed if the law is not filed when the warrant is issued or executed.

We also represent clients after an arrest warrant is issued for a variety of felony offenses in Tampa and Hillsborough County, including white-collar crimes, theft offenses cases, and drug crimes.

Contact us today to discuss your case. Call (813) 250-0500.

This article was last updated on Thursday, April 18, 2024.