The warrant that the police get to search your home is based on their suspicions that you committed a certain crime. They need probable cause for the search, and the judge only issues a warrant if there is reason to do so. The warrant must also state what evidence they’re looking for. For example, if they are searching your home for a fugitive, they cannot open your desk drawer because a person cannot hide inside a drawer.
Without your consent, officers typically cannot enter your home without a warrant. With that in mind, can they only bust you for the alleged crime and the evidence in the warrant? Or, are they allowed to find evidence of other crimes and make an arrest on those grounds?
The issue is whether or not the evidence is in plain view. If it is, they can still seize it — even if it’s not listed in the warrant — without breaking the law. They cannot use the warrant as an excuse to get in the door and then look for other evidence that they have no reason to believe exists.
For instance, maybe they thought you robbed a gas station and they got a warrant to look for the small amount of cash you allegedly took. They have no evidence that you’re selling drugs and cannot turn the house upside down looking for illegal drugs. But, if they see packages of cocaine or bags of opioid pills on the kitchen counter, they can then shift their focus to those drug charges.
As you can imagine, this practice can sometimes cause problems. The police may claim something was in plain sight when you know it was not. This can lead to disputes over what evidence was illegally obtained and therefore cannot be used in court. A situation like this may call for an aggressive defense.