Search Warrant: The Issuance and Execution of It in Singapore
What is a Search Warrant and the Purpose of It?
A search warrant is a court order issued to the Commissioner of Police and to one or more other police officers, or any authorised person, for the purpose of searching premises and seizing property that may be connected to a criminal investigation in Singapore.
A search warrant may also be issued if the court has reason to believe that a person issued an order or a summons to produce a document or data would not do so, or if the owner in possession of the document or data is unknown.
Additionally, a search warrant may be issued to search for and rescue a person who may be wrongfully confined, such as in cases of kidnapping.
In general, a search warrant may be issued by the court if it considers a search or inspection will serve the purposes of justice.
A valid search warrant issued by the court must be in writing, bearing the seal of the court and signed by a Magistrate or Judge. The search warrant remains in force for the number of days specified in it, subject to conditions as laid down by the court.
What is the difference between a search warrant and a warrant of arrest?
A search warrant pertains to the search and/or seizure of things, goods, documents, property or persons, in the conduct of an investigation in connection to an offence.
On the other hand, a warrant of arrest pertains to the bringing of a person into police custody in connection to an offence that has been or is suspected to be committed.
What are the Powers Granted to a Person Authorised to Execute a Search Warrant?
A search warrant may allow either a general or specific search.
A general search warrant grants the executing officer broad discretion or authority to conduct a general search of an area and subsequently seize goods, property or documents found as part of the search.
On the other hand, a specific search warrant allows the executing officer to only search or inspect the area(s) specified (by the court) in the search warrant.
The following are some specific activities that a police officer or any person authorised to execute a search warrant may do, as provided under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC):
- Enter the place specified under the search warrant with such assistance as required.
- Search the place in the manner specified in the warrant.
- Seize any goods, property or documents found in the place searched which are reasonably suspected to be stolen, unlawfully obtained, forged, false or counterfeit.
- Guard the seized goods on the spot until the offender is taken before the court.
- Convey the seized goods before the court.
- Dispose the seized goods in some place of safety.
- Take into custody and arrest any person found in the place who appears to have been privy to the deposit, sale, manufacture or storage of the seized goods.
What if the search warrant is issued to a person who is not a police officer?
In instances where the person authorised to conduct the search is not a police officer, the search warrant must include the following:
- A list or description of the documents or things, or class of things, that may be seized.
- Whether the authorised person may forcefully enter premises of the specified place to be searched if the person in charge of said place refuses to allow him to enter.
- The amount of bond that the person executing the search warrant must sign to ensure that the warrant is properly executed.
The search warrant may also include any other conditions as required to ensure the proper execution of the warrant and prevent any breach of peace.
Can a police officer search a place without a valid search warrant?
Yes, there are several instances where a lawful search may be conducted by a police officer without the need for a search warrant. Here are these instances:
- If the police officer has good grounds for believing that any stolen property will be removed from the premises by the time the search warrant is obtained.
- If during the investigation of an arrestable offence (e.g. theft), a police officer considers the thing to be searched necessary for the investigation and if:
- He has reason to believe that the person who has possession of the thing is unlikely to give access to it; or
- He has reason to believe that the thing to be searched is likely to be removed; or
- He does not know who has possession of the thing to be searched.
How Must a Valid Search be Conducted?
Under the CPC, a person granted a search warrant must conduct the search in accordance with the terms of the warrant. These terms include:
- Entry and search to be conducted during the period specified in the warrant.
- If the occupier of the place to be searched is present at the time of execution of the search, the person granted the warrant must identify himself to the occupier and show the occupier documentary evidence that he is a police officer or an authorised person. The occupier should also be shown the warrant and given a copy of it upon request.
- If search warrant is issued to a person who is not a police officer, the said authorised person must, after duly executing the warrant, report this fact to the court (i.e. that the authorised person is not a police officer) and submit a comprehensive list of all things seized, as mentioned above.
If the occupier of the place to be searched is not present at the time of the search, but some other person who appears to be in charge of the place is present, then the conditions stated above apply to that person as if he was the occupier.
Where a lawful search for stolen property is conducted without a warrant (as mentioned above), the police officer conducting the search must:
- List all of the articles found and alleged to have been stolen or missing; and
- Declare in writing that an offence has been committed and that the informant (the person who informed the officer of such stolen property) has good grounds for believing that the property is deposited in the place to be searched.
What Happens to the Property Seized After a Lawful Search?
During the search, the person authorised to conduct the search may seize, or prohibit the disposal of certain property, if the property:
- Has been involved in an offence suspected to have been committed.
- Is suspected to be used, or intended to be used, to commit an offence.
- Is suspected to constitute evidence of an offence.
The authorised person is required to prepare and sign a list of all things seized during the search, recording the location where each thing has been found. A copy of the list must be given to the occupier or person in charge of the place searched, who may also be present during the conduct of the search.
Afterwards, the court may take into legal custody any document or thing seized and produced before it.
At the conclusion of any inquiry or trial where the thing seized may be presented to the court as evidence, the court may make an order for the disposal of the thing. However, the relevant court must not dispose of it if it is still required for any other court proceedings or investigations.
Can a Search Warrant be Cancelled or Suspended?
Yes, the court issuing a search warrant may suspend or cancel the warrant if there are good reasons to do so. For example, if an illegal search is conducted. An illegal search can occur when the person conducting the search went beyond the terms of the search warrant.
What Happens If the Search is Found to be Unlawful?
Any thing or property seized under an unlawful search may not be used as evidence in an investigation or trial.
The aggrieved person (usually the one who owns or is in charge of the place being searched) may also make a police report for trespass or criminal force, or even commence a civil claim for damages.
If a search warrant is presented to you by an authorised person or a police officer, you are required by law to grant them entry into your premises and cooperate with the search, but make sure that you are first given proof of identity that the officer is authorised to conduct the search.
You should also request a copy of the search warrant and read the specifics of it.
In case the officer conducting the search prohibits you from observing how the search is being conducted, you should insist that your presence during the search be allowed so that you have first-hand observation on the conduct of the search in order to observe any irregularity (e.g. if the conduct of the search differs from what is specified in the warrant).
While you cannot bar the officers entry into your premises, it is strongly advised that you also contact a criminal lawyer to obtain legal advice on your situation as soon as possible.
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