Q&A: Obtaining search warrant


From the Palladium-Item (Richmond):

Q: The newspaper is having trouble tracking down a copy of a search warrant and affidavit of probable cause. Should those be available for inspection and copying? 

A: Generally, yes. When law enforcement files with the court a request for a search warrant, often supported by the affidavit, those records become public records when the court receives them.

Law enforcement can request the court keep the record confidential. But the Indiana Supreme Court’s Administrative Rule 9 says confidentiality applies only until the warrant has been served and law enforcement has presented the court with its return on service.

The logic behind this is the ability to keep some warrants secret and not tip off a target who may be out of town at the time of the warrant request.

Let’s say the search warrant was for a tractor-trailer rig, but the driver is on a cargo run to California. The police wouldn’t want the driver to get a tip and destroy or dump the evidence being sought before he or she returns to Indiana, where the warrant could be served.

If law enforcement wants to keep the documents secret beyond the point where the return on service is completed, they would need to make a new request for secrecy based on some other statutory basis.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.