Search Warrants

How do I draft a search warrant application?

There are no specific forms in the RMA for search warrants. The form contained in s198 of the Summary Proceedings Act 1957 can be used as a guide. 

In making the application and showing reasonable grounds for belief, inferences are often important. You usually build those inferences by laying out a chronology of the investigation, with details of relevant findings at different points in the investigation.

Be aware of the fact that a search warrant is to cover an intrusion on privacy. It is a mechanism to provide scrutiny of your powers and investigative purpose, and balance these against individual freedom. You should include anything prejudicial to the search, such as the fact you are relying on leads provided by a neighbour who is in dispute with your suspect. Including the material is important because your suspect is not present during the application to challenge it. A registrar or judge’s scrutiny now may save a finding of unreasonable search later.

More good practice tips about search warrants

The first time a local authority seeks to obtain a search warrant under the RMA, it will be important to discuss the RMA and s334 with the District Court registrar. It is a good idea to:

  • call ahead and ask for half an hour to go through it; the registrar may choose to find a judge in chambers to consider it on these first occasions

  • create a good first impression; have an experienced criminal prosecutor check your first few warrants.

On-site, it is effective to have:

  • a constable experienced in the serving of warrants to make the initial entry ahead of you and to secure cooperation; after that you should take the lead

  • have a plan and roles assigned for evidence collection: a coordinator, searchers, an interviewer to take occupants through any questions you have or that might arise from articles found, and a manager of exhibits.