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Challenging the Validity of a Search Warrant with a "Franks" Hearing


Police and law enforcement authorities can enter your home and seize evidence if they have a valid search warrant. The seized evidence can be used in a criminal trial, but you may have an opportunity to request a Franks hearing to keep that evidence out of your trial. The prospects of a successful Franks hearing are often low, but if the police did not follow proper procedures to procure the search warrant, this hearing may be your best chance to preserve and protect your Constitutional rights against an illegal search and seizure.

What is a Franks Hearing?

The police will generally sign an affidavit to support a request for a search warrant and courts will presume that a policeman's affidavit is valid and truthful. Nonetheless, a 1978 opinion by the United States Supreme Court established a procedure that a criminal defendant can follow to challenge the affidavits that support search warrants. If a court agrees to a criminal defendant's request for the hearing, that defendant's lawyer will need to show, by a preponderance of evidence, that the police officer who signed the affidavit either knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, included false statements in his affidavit in support of a search warrant, and that these false statements were necessary to a finding of probable cause for the search warrant. A criminal defendant cannot simply argue that the police officer acted negligently or that he made a mistake. Likewise, the defendant needs to challenge the police officer himself, and not an informant or some other person that might have given the officer information which led to the search warrant.

If the informant gave the officer false information, a defendant in a Franks hearing can argue that the officer acted with a reckless disregard for the truth. This requires the defendant's lawyer to show that:

  1. The officer who signed the affidavit which led to the warrant entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the allegations in the affidavit; or
  2. The circumstances surrounding the affidavit and warrant reveal obvious reasons to doubt the veracity of the allegations.

Only a small number of Franks hearings ever succeed in overturning a search warrant and in keeping seized evidence out of court. Still, these hearings remain an important tool on a criminal defense lawyer's arsenal to protect a defendant's Constitutional rights. A Franks hearing may be appropriate in your case, for example, if you have been subjected to repeated harassment by the police officer who signed the affidavit for a warrant, particularly if you have other proof that this officer has been looking for a reason to go after you.

Contact a Lawyer Today

Please contact the Law Office of Steven Fine if you believe that the Chicago police or other law enforcement authorities have relied on a search warrant to enter your home and to seize evidence that may be used against you in a criminal trial. We will review the circumstances that led to the search warrant and determine if you have any cause to challenge the warrant and the seizure of the evidence.