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Search warrant process

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An investigation into why it sometimes takes an inordinate amount of time for law enforcement to obtain a search warrant.

The question arises from an incident earlier this week when Missoula deputies attempted to gain entrance to the car so dogs could get the scent of a man they were chasing.  

A person familiar with these processes tells us the steps taken to obtain a search warrant can be quick and easy, but in situations that are less cut and dry, the process can take more time.

The first step is for the on-site law enforcement official to fill out the report requesting the warrant, with all the information regarding the situation.

The report gets sent to the county attorney, who reviews it before sending it to the district court office.

Finally, a district court judge reviews the report, with three options at his or her disposal.

The judge can approve the request, deny it or send it back to the county attorney to add more information.

That is the stage in the process where actually obtaining a search warrant can take hours or days longer than usual.

In addition, with many different types of search warrants, the thresholds needed to get the warrant can vary.

The person we spoke with says there is a 24/7 on call county attorney, as well as a judge who is constantly on-call for cases that need urgent attention.

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