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I'm interested in learning about the logistical process of obtaining a warrant. So far, what I keep reading is that in order to obtain a warrant, officers need to convince a judge or magistrate that they have enough probable cause for the warrant to be issued. A step by step process, involving every logistical aspect would be greatly appreciated. Here are some guiding questions that interest me:

  • Do officers/prosecutors do this by having a hearing in front of the judge and presenting their affidavit?
  • Or, do officers/prosecutors instead have a system to submit their documents into a "pool" that eventually gets to a judge?
  • How is the judge chosen? Is it random? Whoever is available to look over the case?
  • How fast are warrants typically approved by a judge? (from the moment the request is made until it is approved)
  • Are warrants given on a first-come-first-served basis? (e.g., an officer submits a request to have a hearing and his request is put in a queue until a judge gets to it)

I'm interested in the United States. I wish to get a "general" overview of the process (if it's not standardized). If no such thing exists because it varies too much, then I'd love to see a few different examples across the board. Particularly, I'm interested to see the use of technology (e.g., one state that has the process more streamlined using technology vs. one that doesn't) to improve the efficiency of the process.

  • Are you interested in any particular jurisdiction? The details vary from one to the next. – phoog Jul 2 '17 at 17:50
  • @phoog Well, I think it's worth noting that I'm interested firstly in the US. From here, I could perhaps narrow it down to mainland US. In general terms, I would first like to get a "general" idea (if such exists) of how the process works across the board. However, if this is too general, I would be interested in learning how it works in a state like New York. Finally, I'm also interested in learning about any technology involved in the process, so perhaps a comparison between a state that uses a lot of technology vs. one that doesn't would also help me. – aedcv Jul 2 '17 at 17:55
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    Even for a single state, this is too many questions to be answered coherently. The most basic question is, how much of the process is dictated by law, vs. at the (informed) discretion of the individual. – user6726 Jul 2 '17 at 18:30
  • In Ontario, obtaining a warrant involves an ex parte hearing, normally with a justice of the peace. In that hearing, only the Crown is present. They have a duty to disclose to the court everything about the case, including things that may hurt the ITO. They're pretty quick, they are often the same day. If the court isn't open, and a warrant is needed, police can also fax it and stuff to obtain it. – Zizouz212 Jul 2 '17 at 18:52
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Do officers/prosecutors do this by having a hearing in front of the judge and presenting their affidavit?

Generally a law enforcement officer executes an affidavit in cooperation with a prosecutor who submits it to a judge. (Some, but not all, jurisdictions, allow a law enforcement officer to directly submit a warrant request without the prosecutor's intervention.) The judge can ask that a hearing be held, but is authorized to issue a warrant on the basis of the written affidavit alone. Usually, an affidavit can be issued with the prosecutor appearing by telephone or on the basis of a written submission that is e-filed, rather than in person. But, local practice varies and the technology available to judges in different localities varies a great deal.

Or, do officers/prosecutors instead have a system to submit their documents into a "pool" that eventually gets to a judge?

Absent the most extraordinary and exigent circumstances, the documents are submitted to the clerk of the court who forwards the documents (electronically or on paper as the case may be) to the appropriate judge's personal court clerks who in turn forward it to the judge (often with a recommendation). Usually a judge has the authority to sign a warrant anywhere (on a golf course, at his home, etc.) without clerk intervention, but that would be unusual if not entirely unprecedented (e.g. it might happen a few times a year for a given judge with the right kind of docket).

How is the judge chosen? Is it random? Whoever is available to look over the case?

The default rule is random assignment, but it isn't uncommon for one or a few judges to be the on call judges to handle warrant requests at any given time. Usually, other judges have the authority to sign a warrant if the on call judges are not available but this is very uncommon.

How fast are warrants typically approved by a judge? (from the moment the request is made until it is approved)

This is entirely up to the judge (once the judge receives it). It can be as little as ten or fifteen minutes (a recent U.S. Supreme Court case discussed this), to a matter of days. If the judge is skeptical and wants in person testimony before issuing the warrant and is considering requiring a modification of the warrant, it might take several days. A judge receiving what is flagged as an "urgent" request, that the judge finds to be less than urgent might very well intentionally delay issuing the warrant to discourage prosecutors from crying wolf.

Are warrants given on a first-come-first-served basis? (e.g., an officer submits a request to have a hearing and his request is put in a queue until a judge gets to it)

Not necessarily. If a judge understands that one request is more exigent than another, the judge doesn't have to consider them in the order they are received.

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This depends a lot on the type of suspected crime the officers are investigating. Simple, straightforward situations, for example when a scene is already secured and they need a warrant to, say, open a certain container, could be far quicker than seeking a warrant to raid somebody's house in the middle of the night. In certain circumstances, it is not unheard of to wake a judge up in the middle of the night in order to obtain approval for a warrant. The answer quoted below (which has some other solid input if you scroll farther down) provides some important quotes that could at least serve to answer a good part of your question(s):

The vast majority of the building/private property search warrants obtained by our department were obtained by SID (special investigations division) which included the Vice/Narcotics/Intelligence units. The majority of these were for drug seizures. In almost all of these cases, there were several days to a few weeks of controlled buys, surveillance and general intel gathering/photo taking, background research on the people, location, neighbors etc. All of the major facts had to be verified by the case detective, their partner and then at least one supervisor. Almost all of these were ‘no-knock’ warrants which only increased the necessity of detailed accuracy.

Varying circumstances lead to varying timeframes:

Major felony (Robbery/Homicide) would obtain search warrants primarily for crime scenes to preserve the chain of evidence. As such the scene was typically already secure, the facts straight forward and the process simple compared to SID and would typically take us 2–4hrs once the decision was made, depending on day of week and time of day. However, it was also not uncommon to secure the location, get the warrant during the next day and come back to search much later. Just depended on the circumstances.

Also, sometimes searches that generally require a warrant do not require one given the circumstances, such as with consent:

The General Investigation guys (burglary/theft) did some warrants as well, primarily to execute arrest warrants/search for stolen property and followed guidelines similar to SID, but in many of their cases the suspect was already in custody and many times gave consent.

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