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How are search warrants filed in Massachusetts? I assume they are public records. Are they filed at the county level? So, a person wanting to see who was getting searched in his neighborhood would go to the county what and do what?

  • The Sec'y of State indirectly addresses this on p. 2 of sec.state.ma.us/pre/prepdf/…, where it says "The Public Records Law does not apply to records held by federal agencies, the legislature or the courts of the Commonwealth". This may cause problems in any effort to obtain such records from a court, if anyone reads and believes this. – user6726 Jul 6 '18 at 5:02
  • @user6726 Just because you can do a Public Records Law search does not mean that courts don't allow the public to access their unsealed files, it must means that the process for doing so is governed by court procedures rather than the law that applies to other state agencies. – ohwilleke Jul 6 '18 at 18:58
  • Rather, based on a reading of the statutes, I think the Sec'y of State has simply misstated the exemption. – user6726 Jul 6 '18 at 19:34
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Search warrants are ordinarily sealed until they are executed and served, and sometimes longer if the contents of the warrant could prejudice a potential juror or could tip off someone subject to a related search warrant. Once a search warrant ceases to be under seal, it should be on file with the clerk of the court that issued them.

This means that some search warrants could be on file with an issuing court of general jurisdiction, while other search warrants in the territory covered by the court of general jurisdiction could be on file with an issuing court of limited jurisdiction that has concurrent jurisdiction with the court of general jurisdiction responsible for its territory, to issue a search warrant.

I suspect, but do not know, that a search warrant obtained prior to filing criminal charges has its own case number in that court, while a search warrant filed in a criminal case once it has been commenced is included with the court file for that criminal case. Searching for a search warrant in court records in an effort to find the one you are looking for can be difficult, however, because a search warrant doesn't have to name a particular criminal defendant the way that a criminal case does; it only needs to identify the place to be searched and the items to be searched for and often is issued as part of an investigation before a criminal defendant is identified.

So, if you were going to do a statistical analysis, you would have to pull a sample of search warrants from the clerks of all the courts in a county with records requests directed at each of them, and then use a geographic information system to make sense of that data.

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The search warrant itself must be given upon request by the person who’s property it was issued for/against. Note I said “warrant” NOT the “affidavit” filed and presented to the judge in order to obtain it. What you meant to say, and you were accurate in your statement otherwise, was about the affidavit being sealed and unattainable during an investigation still underway.

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  • Is one allowed to read it before granting access? – Michael McFarlane Jun 15 at 22:45

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