Technology helping police to receive search warrants faster

The Fourth Amendment is intended to protect us from unreasonable searches. That's why police, in almost all cases, are required to get a search warrant before entering someone's home.

It's meant to protect our liberties. But often times, that requirement has allowed criminals to get away with breaking the law.

Requiring a search warrant has helped criminals in some cases, because it's essentially bought them time to cover their tracks under certain circumstances.

For years, the problem with a search warrant was the time-consuming process of getting one. But thanks to modern technology, authorities are now able to get them much faster. And, some argue, that's helped make our streets and neighborhoods safer.

Eric Tamashasky is a Former Deputy Prosecutor in St. Joseph County who helped put criminals in prison by his work in the courtroom.

Now, as a full time legal advisor to the St. Joseph County Police Department, his work involves making sure criminals get their day in court.

“I can assist the county police in a number of different ways,” says Eric Tamashasky, SJCPD legal advisor. “One of those would be with the investigation of crimes. With my prosecutor background, i can help them build cases that we can have successfully prosecuted.”

And building a case usually begins at a crime scene, where evidence is gathered and arrests are often made.

“There are situations where it's appropriate to apply for a search warrant and that's one where I’ve been very helpful to county police,” says Tamashasky.

Tamashasky says, even up until a few years ago, getting that warrant could be a logistical nightmare.

“Detectives would have to go back to a detective bureau,” says Tamashasky. “They would then have to go back to their computers, or their typewriters, and then begin to put together what they thought was appropriate for the search warrant. At that point they would call a prosecutor, or perhaps run it to the prosecutor, or have a prosecutor review it. Then they would have to contact a judge. Some of the judges they would actually have to run it to the judge's home--it could take two to two and a half hours from the decision to get a search warrant to actually having a search warrant in hand.”

Giving criminals time to get away or hide, destroy or compromise evidence. Or putting officers in a position where evidence they gathered could be tossed out in court on a technicality.

“The amount of time it used to take to get a search warrant could have devastating implications for cases, because if they're very time intensive, officers would have to make due without it,” says Tamashasky. “And leaving evidence on the table isn't helpful at all for the overall case.”

But that's all changed thanks to modern wonders like iPads and iPhones.

“We can draft an affidavit at the scene, we can sign it at the scene, we can either email or fax it to our judges who can then review it on their technology and get it back to us and we never leave,” says Tamashasky. “I've gotten some search warrants for swat calls in 15 minutes: from putting finger to keyboard to having a judge review it and sign it and giving us the constitutional authorization to proceed--15 minutes. From two and half hours to fifteen minutes, it's an order of magnitude and it's amazing.”

Tamashasky says he believes this new method has even saved lives by giving officers a new weapon to combat drunk drivers who refuse to submit to a breathalyzer.

“Not only do we get to find what alcohol is going on, but all the different drugs of abuse or their metabolites,” says Tamashasky. “So it makes it easier for police to actually put together prosecutable cases and makes sure that justice is accomplished. If it took two hours to get a blood draw, the vast majority of those officers, they're not going to get a search warrant. If I can do it in 20? A lot of these officers recognize that value of DUI's and every DUI is a homicide avoided.”

And Tamashasky says doing search warrants this way saves taxpayers money on overtime costs and paper supplies.

But the most important aspects, he says, have to do with crime and crime victims.

“We're getting better cases to give to the prosecutor to have them prosecute,” says Tamashasky. “We're getting more cases solved, which means we're getting more bad guys off the streets. And a lot of the evidence we're recovering and getting, a lot of that is people's property. We're getting search warrants to get that stuff back and get it back to the people from whom it was taken. There's a lot of benefits for everyone in this.”

Tamashasky says he even authorized a blood draw on a suspected drunk driver who refused to submit to a breathalyzer, from his golf cart out on a golf outing in a different county one Saturday morning.

We all know the computer files can crash and such. Tamashasky says paper copies can be lost or destroyed.

But everything he sends out from his iPad or iPhone goes to several people, and unless all those people delete them, or their files crash there's little chance of that happening.

Also everything is backed up in what's known in the computer world as "the cloud."

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