I'm trying to get a copy of a search warrant when the police came out and searched my house last month when no one was home. I went to the court house and they said that it was sealed, what does that mean?
It means that the cops want to keep some information secret. The name of an informant, the identity of an undercover officer and/or the use of some surveillance equipment that is still in operation are the most common reasons.
The police do this because an active investigation may still be going on. It is possible to get it unsealed once a case has been filed. Even then, it may require a full motion and hearing to het the court to do so.
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A California Supreme Court case, People v. Hobbs, allowed police officers to sign an Affidavit in Support of a Search Warrant and submit it to the court with an appendix that is sealed. The sealed portion is the part that has all the relevant information including the identity of the confidential informant, the reason the officer requests the Affidavit to be ordered sealed, and the basis for the determination of probable cause. The remaining portion of the Affidavit is basically a meaningless shell that has no useful information for the defense. That portion of the Affidavit should be available in the courthouse, but some people do not differentiate between the sealed and unsealed portions, creating misunderstanding about whether only a portion, or the entire warrant is to remain sealed.
There is a motion that can be filed with the court to challenge the warrant in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, judges are generally reluctant to grant these types of motions.
If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime based on one of these "Hobbs warrants" you will want to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.
This answer is not intended to give specific legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.
Michael Scheid may be reached at (209)544-5727.