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Should California Allow Digital Search Warrants?

In California, drivers who are pulled over on suspicion of DUI can refuse to have their breath tested. When a driver refuses a breathalyzer test, the police officer can request a warrant to have the suspect’s blood tested. However, it takes time to receive these warrants, so law enforcement will often opt against requesting one. 1
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A potential solution to this problem is being put into place in Missouri, which has enacted a “no refusal” policy. The policy essentially allows police officers to request a digital warrant for blood tests when DUI suspects refuse. Instead of physically visiting a judge, a warrant can be requested and authorized electronically in a matter of minutes. 2

While the policy in Missouri will not affect you if you are pulled over for DUI in California, the situation will be monitored closely and could lead California lawmakers to push for a similar policy. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of using digital warrants in California…

Pros of Electronic Search Warrants

The obvious advantage of an electronic search warrant for law enforcement is the speed of which they can be obtained. Police officers who are currently working late at night have to fax warrant requests or affidavits to on-call judges. The judge can sign it and return it via fax. 3

As you can imagine, this process can take a while. An electronic search warrant would allow police to submit documents at the scene of a crime from an electronic device. Judges would be able to respond from anywhere in seconds. This could lead to more arrests of guilty persons.

Electronic warrants would also serve environmental benefits. Going through the warrant process electronically would significantly reduce the amount of paper used by law enforcement.

Cons of Electronic Search Warrants

The quick process of obtaining a digital warrant could be considered a positive for law enforcement, but it could also violate your rights as a citizen. The purpose of requiring police to obtain a search warrant is to instill a “checks and balances” system in order to protect your right to be free from unreasonable searches. With the ease at which a digital warrant could be obtained, police officers and judges may not invest the time and care necessary to decide if you should be searched.

It could also lead to instances in which law enforcement feels the need to quickly obtain evidence. This can lead to hasty decisions and possible violations of your Constitutional rights.

For example, if you are pulled over for having a broken tail light, the officer can request to search your car. If you refuse, the officer can quickly request a search warrant for your car. Within minutes, the officer could be searching your vehicle despite your refusal.

One major disadvantage of the electronic search warrant is the fact that there is no paper copy. With a paper copy, officers can present it to a suspect, renter or owner. 4 This allows citizens to trust the officer and be informed as to why their property is being searched.

Do You Think California Should Allow Digital Warrants?

Adopting digital warrants would have a major impact on Californians rights. Do you think that digital warrants should be adopted? Do you feel that allowing law enforcement to acquire a digital warrant would be a violation of your Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches? Wallin & Klarich would like to hear your opinion. Leave your comments below.


1. [http://www.missourinet.com/2014/07/07/prosecutors-association-urges-digital-warrants-in-dwi-cases/]
2. [http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/search-seizure-faq-29092-3.html]
3. [http://www.mlive.com/news/jackson/index.ssf/2013/07/as_part_of_larger_effort_to_go.html]
4. [Id.]

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About Wallin & Klarich

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Wallin & Klarich was established in 1981. Over the past 32 years, our law firm has helped tens of thousands of families in their time of legal need. Regardless of whether our clients faced criminal or DUI charges, the loss of their driving privilege, or wanted to clean up their criminal record, we have been there to help them.