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Process of obtaining search warrants explained

Shooting threat at Great Falls Farmers' Market
Posted at 9:32 AM, Jul 18, 2023

On Saturday, July 15, 2023, a man threatened to begin shooting at people at the Great Falls Farmers' Market. Police officers quickly determined the suspect was on the fifth floor of the adjacent Park Manor building - but had to wait to obtain a search warrant before they could legally enter the residence.

In light of that and several other recent situations, we wanted to get a better understanding of the process to obtain a search warrant and why that might take a while at times.

There have been a few different times recently where there is a police standoff in a potentially high-risk situation, and they are waiting several hours to get a warrant to finally make an arrest.

I wanted to know what that process entails to fully understand the authorities’ perspective, so I sat down with Lt. Doug Mahlum with the GFPD as well as District Court Judge David Grubich.

“To get a search warrant, we have to send an officer that has the most information on scene to explain the probable cause that we may have that a crime is taking place [to] meet with our County Attorney's office, who then helps draft a search warrant,” said Lt. Mahlum. “The search warrant is then taken to a judge's home or wherever they might be for them to review it and then for the judge to sign off on it, so you know late in the day or late afternoons or on the weekends, that can take some time to get obtained.”

Lt. Doug Mahlum with the GFPD
Lt. Doug Mahlum of the GFPD

There are four District Court Judges in Great Falls and Grubich said they do their best to always be available in case they get the call they are needed to sign a warrant.

“As a judge, it is my job to review the affidavit [and] if I’m not available then they’ll move on to the next judge,” said Judge Grubich.

Obtaining a search warrant is a straightforward process, but can lead to delays during active, high-risk situations like Saturday in Great Falls. And those involved know that every second counts.

“The affidavit or the application for the warrant describes what happened, describes the crime that's alleged to have happened, what evidence they think they're going to find or whether it's a person. It could be a warrant for a person and where that's located,” said Judge Grubich. “As long as they get that information in the warrant and when I read it, there's a fair probability that this evidence is going to be found there or this person is going to be found there, I grant it.”

District Court Judge David Grubich
District Court Judge David Grubich

In situations where the authorities need to keep an area contained and they feel they have successfully done that, then they know they can slow down and take their time to avoid making any mistakes.

“The judge has to review [the affidavit] to make sure that we've established through the information that we've provided that there's enough probable cause for us to enter somebody's residence [but] if there's no exigency and nobody's being harmed in the moment, we're going to take our time and make sure that we get a search warrant, make sure that anything or any person that we obtain based off of that search warrant can then be used in the court of law,” said Lt. Malhum.