Mesa, AZ asked in Criminal Law, Civil Rights and Constitutional Law for Arizona

Q: When a search warrant has ( the four corners rule ) On the search warrant what is the reason for this

Said search warrant had only non residents on it yet covered in the broad east meaning possible Also what part of the warrant does the judge actually see when the four corners rule is used

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: "The four corners rule" in the context of search warrants refers to the legal principle that a judge should only consider the information contained within the four corners of the affidavit - that is, the written document itself - when determining whether there is probable cause to issue the warrant. In other words, the information considered should be strictly what is presented on the paper without reference to external information or oral statements given outside of what is officially recorded in the affidavit.

When applying this rule, a judge will review the complete affidavit, which should clearly detail the evidence and reasons that justify the issuance of the warrant. It must specify the areas to be searched and the items or information being sought in the search. This is a requirement under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. The details mentioned in the affidavit need to be accurate and truthful to the best knowledge of the law enforcement officer applying for the warrant.

Given that your question hints at a concern for overbroad or unspecific warrants — it is indeed critical that the warrant particularly describes the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized, to avoid a violation of the Fourth Amendment rights. Non-residents being mentioned in a warrant can sometimes signal issues with the specificity of the warrant, depending on the circumstances.

In a situation where only non-residents are mentioned on the search warrant, it might raise questions of its validity or its adherence to the four corners rule, especially if it hints at a general search or does not provide a detailed basis for the search related to those non-residents. In practice, this could potentially be a ground to challenge the warrant in court. If the warrant is found to be overly broad or lacking a proper basis in the information contained within the "four corners" of the affidavit, it may be possible to have evidence obtained in the search excluded from a criminal proceeding.

Thus, it is imperative that the affidavit supporting the warrant maintains a high standard of detail and specificity to ensure adherence to constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The judge sees and relies upon the entirety of the content within those "four corners" to make a judicial determination on whether or not to issue the warrant based on probable cause grounded in factual evidence.

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