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Probable Cause Affidavits vs. Search Warrants in Arizona Criminal Cases

The legal landscape surrounding criminal investigations can be complex, and understanding the nuances of key documents like probable cause affidavits and search warrants can make the difference in whether a defendant is convicted of the crime that they are charged with. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently released an opinion that can shed light on the differences between probable cause affidavits and search warrants under Arizona law.

According to the facts and procedural history discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant faced convictions for fraudulent schemes and artifices, burglary, and theft. The case originated from a series of burglaries where victims were lured from their homes by fake FedEx calls, leading to the theft of valuable items. Law enforcement, during the investigation, obtained the phone records of one victim, revealing a prepaid T-Mobile phone linked to the crimes.

Probable Cause Affidavit and Court Orders

In December 2015, law enforcement, armed with a probable cause affidavit, sought a court order to obtain cell site location information (CSLI) for the prepaid phone, citing relevant statutes. The affidavit outlined the need for GPS information and subscriber data. A judge, finding probable cause, issued the requested order. Despite facing challenges, including a typographical error in subsequent requests, law enforcement obtained the necessary orders, enabling GPS tracking of the phone.

The Search Warrant and Evidence Seizure

The GPS data led law enforcement to the defendant’s address, culminating in the issuance of a search warrant for his home. Executing the warrant, detectives discovered incriminating evidence, including tools and chemicals related to jewelry disassembly and a stone resembling one stolen during a previous burglary.

Legal Challenges and Affirmation

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained through the probable cause court orders, arguing an infringement of his Fourth Amendment rights. However, the court, in its decision, affirmed the convictions, emphasizing the functionality of the probable cause orders as the equivalent of a search warrant. Additionally, the court applied the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule, stating that law enforcement had acted reasonably in obtaining the orders.

Distinguishing Probable Cause Affidavits and Search Warrants

Probable cause affidavits and search warrants serve distinct roles in criminal investigations. A probable cause affidavit is a sworn statement by law enforcement outlining facts and circumstances justifying the need for a search or arrest warrant. In contrast, a search warrant is a court order authorizing the search of a specified location for evidence related to a crime. In spite of this distinction, courts may see the documents as interchangeable under some circumstances. The recently decided appeal highlights that a probable cause affidavit can serve as a precursor to obtaining court orders for specific investigative actions. In certain situations, court orders, if based on probable cause, may function similarly to search warrants, allowing law enforcement to gather crucial evidence. Unfortunately, even if legal nuances exist, the good faith exception can apply if law enforcement reasonably relied on court orders that may not have technically been search warrants.

Understanding the difference between probable cause affidavits and search warrants is essential for anyone navigating the complexities of Arizona criminal cases. In the recently decided case, the court affirmed convictions based on evidence obtained through court orders, emphasizing their functionality akin to search warrants. If you are facing criminal charges, seek the guidance of an experienced Arizona criminal defense attorney who can navigate the seemingly contradictory facets of Arizona criminal law to help build a strong and successful defense.

Are You Seeking an Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney?

If you are facing criminal charges, seek the guidance of an experienced Arizona criminal defense attorney with the Law Office of James E. Novak who can navigate the legal intricacies to ensure your rights are protected. We understand how police and prosecutors try to bend the rules to maintain an evidentiary advantage in criminal prosecutions. Making a compelling argument to exclude evidence is the most important at the early stages of a prosecution, as appellate courts generally give great deference to trial court decisions on closely contested issues. At the Law Office of James E. Novak, we represent people charged with all types of Arizona crimes, including theft and burglary charges. To schedule a no-obligation consultation to discuss your case, call 480-413-1499 or reach out through our online form.

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