Unsealing Search Warrant Affidavits
In California, when law enforcement executes a search warrant they must have the warrant signed by a judge approving the existence of probable cause. Procedurally, officers must provide a statement made under penalty of perjury outlining their investigation and reason(s) why they’re seeking to obtain a search warrant. Oftentimes, however, the officers request that the affidavit they provide be filed under seal prohibiting public access. Therefore, in subsequent criminal proceedings, defense counsel is merely given the basic front page of the warrant without the supporting law enforcement affidavits.
If the contents of the police officer(s) affidavit are kept sealed, this would infringe upon a defendant’s ability to contest the validity of the search warrant. For instance, defense counsel may argue that the confidential informant who provided a statement to police officers who in return drafted an affidavit to obtain the warrant was based on fabrications and/or exaggerations. Or perhaps the officers deliberately lied in their affidavit to the judge who issued the warrant. Because the majority, if not all, of the search warrant affidavit, is sealed, a criminal defendant is unable to investigate and determine if there exists any feasible attack on the search warrant that was executed by law enforcement. This is to ensure that a criminal defendant has a fair and equal opportunity to review all the evidence in the case.