Search Warrants and What They Cover

My understanding…in order to obtain a search warrant for a person’s house the police must do to things, they must show “probable cause” that they will find “something” and they must specify what they are looking for, at least to a reasonable degree. In other words, say they suspect me of child porn, they can say they are searching for any images, films, statuettes etc. but don’t have to specify a particular film etc.

Now, suppose they enter my house with their search warrant and, for the sake of argument, they find absolutely no evidence of child porn, but they do happen to notice a couple of murdered bodies under the bed.

The Question:
On the one hand I can not believe that they would be helpless to act on that observation just because dead bodies weren’t listed on the warrant. On the other hand, if they can act on the bodies, then what was the point of requiring them to specify what materials they were searching for in the first place?

I’m putting this here instead of GD because I really want to know the legal situation as it exists rather than what people think “should” exist.


I think if the bodies are in plain view they are exigent circumstances. Looking under a bed would be reasonable in searching for child porn. If they have to dig up the basement or tear down a wall there might be a problem. The law isn’t completely an ass. I suspect if bodies were found, even if they weren’t in plain view, some way would be found to get that into evidence at any ensuing trial.

IANAL, but I believe that anything found is fair game for you to be prosecuted on, assuming they have a warrant to search your property. My WAG is that the requirement for a specific thing to search for is to keep the cops from saying “Eh, we just want to poke around his house and see if we can’t find something to bust him for.”

IANAL either, but I believe that you can be arrested for whatever is found as long as it was found in a place that it would be reasonable to search for whatever is in the search warrant.

So, if they were searching for child porn and came across a cache of drugs in a strongbox, you’d probably be arrested.

If they were searching for a body and found child porn in a jewelry box, well…unless it is a mighty big jewelry box, they had no business looking in there! However, the cops would probably contrive to pull an “oopsie” and knock over the box while moving a dresser or whatever it was on top of…and this might make it a legal seizure.

Bottom line is, most search warrants are probably pretty vague, especially when having to do with a known or suspected crime. Just for instance, the cops recently returned with a search warrant to that guy’s house in CA whose wife disappeared on Christmas Eve (forget the name). The warrant probably said something like "to recover any and all evidence that might assist the investigation into the disappearance of “so-and-so” including, but not limited to (long list).

“Including, but not limited to” is very handy legal phraseology. It probably shows up on warrants a lot :slight_smile: