In the United States, suppose a warrant was required for a seizure and the police properly obtained one.

Do the law enforcement officials who execute the warrant need to present that warrant prior to seizing the evidence? Or is it okay to present the warrant after the item(s) have been seized?

If it makes a difference, I'm specifically wondering in the scenario that the item is on your person.

  • they can also arrest you to get to items on your person.
    – Trish
    Commented Oct 16, 2022 at 8:45
  • No, they have to have probable cause to arrest you and cannot arrest you just to conduct a search.
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 16, 2022 at 15:26
  • I assume the warrant exists and is in the officers pocket so he can pull it out at any time. Or the warrant exists but the police officer left it at his desk.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 16, 2022 at 19:07
  • @user6726, what you think the law allows and what the justice system allows are 2 different things.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 0:09

1 Answer 1


We should start with the rule regarding presentation of search warrants. The US Court search and seizure warrant form explicitly says

Unless delayed notice is authorized below, you must give a copy of the warrant and a receipt for the property taken to the person from whom, or from whose premises, the property was taken, or leave the copy and receipt at the place where the property was taken.

State will have similar rules, e.g. Washington's CrRLJ 2.3.

(d) Execution and Return with Inventory. The peace officer taking property under the warrant shall give to the person from whom or from whose premises the property is taken a copy of the warrant and a receipt for the property taken.

This does not explicitly say "before starting the search," and the wording "shall give ... a copy of the warrant and a receipt for the property taken" implies that the two documentary items can be presented at the same time (therefore after the search). Arkansas's rule Ark. R. Crim. P. 13.3 is slightly different

(b) Prior to entering a dwelling to execute a search warrant, the executing officer shall make known the officer's presence and authority for entering the dwelling

which is not a requirement to present the warrant itself, and then

(c) In the course of any search or seizure pursuant to the warrant, the executing officer shall give a copy of the warrant to the person to be searched or the person in apparent control of the premises to be searched. The copy shall be furnished before undertaking the search or seizure unless the officer has reasonable cause to believe that such action would endanger the successful execution of the warrant with all practicable safety, in which case he shall, as soon as is practicable, state his authority and purpose and furnish a copy of the warrant.

So there is some variation in the requirement for handing over a copy of the warrant.

Body searches might be subject to different standards per jurisdiction. Washington search law has extensive limits on strip and body cavity searches, whereas searching pockets is like searching a premise (a copy of the warrant must be eventually presented, along with an inventory of items seized).

It is typically stated that ideally, police will show a copy of the warrant to the person being searched or whose premise is being searched, but ideally does not mean "must always". I have not found any case where an officer reasonably could have shown the warrant prior to conducting a search (when so requested by the searchee) but unreasonably refused.

  • Of course, there is a huge LEO industry of seizing cash at traffic stops without a warrant.
    – Peter M
    Commented Oct 16, 2022 at 17:20
  • So if the officer left the warrant at his desk, he must leave and come back with the warrant. He doesn’t need to show the warrant when he enters, but at some time during the search. It seems he needs to show the warrant even if not asked.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 16, 2022 at 19:18

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