The road to a search warrant has sometimes been a long and winding one for Minnesota law enforcement officers, especially those working a late-night shift. But now there's an express lane known as the eSearch Warrant, that public safety officials say will make a big difference in DWI prosecutions.
A legal process that used to be done on paper and required a face-to-face meeting between an officer and a judge is now being done electronically. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Monday the transition to sSearch Warrants started in October and is now finished statewide.
“Before eSearch Warrants, a peace officer would write a search warrant application and then drive it to the judge for review,” said BCA Superintendent Drew Evans.
Here's how it works now: the officer applies for a search warrant electronically. Whichever judge is on call in that county at the time gets a notification. The judge logs in and reviews the application along with an affidavit explaining why the officer thinks the warrant is needed. The judge responds in writing and connects with the officer by phone to finalize things.
The BCA laid out the new process in a presentation at a conference last summer.
Minnesota law still says search warrants must be served between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. but courts can authorize night-time searches if a judge agrees that something might be lost or destroyed by waiting until morning, or if the search could be done more safely at night.
Search warrants now required for DWI blood tests
The BCA says making the switch to electronic search warrants became a priority after court rulings said drunk driving suspects can only be subjected to a blood or urine test if officers have a search warrant.
A Minnesota Supreme Court ruling last October basically brought the state in line with a similar decision from the U.S. Supreme Court a few years earlier. The courts said an officer can test a suspect's breath right away, but blood and urine tests are more invasive so they require a search warrant.
A State Patrol colonel said Monday that the eSearch Warrant system lets troopers process drunk driving suspects a lot faster and takes less time away from their other duties on the road.
The search warrants are part of a broader "eCharging" system the BCA has been developing to help officers, prosecutors, and courts share information faster. As part of the project, judges across the state can now access the eCharging system even when they're not at the courthouse.