The Washington State Legislature passed Substitute House Bill 6279 on March 5, 2014, and it was signed by the Governor on March 27, 2014. This new law, which becomes effective on June 12, 2014, allows a district or municipal court judge in which an offense is alleged to have occurred, to authorize a search warrant for persons or evidence located anywhere in the state. This is a big departure from the previous law, which only allowed municipal and district court judges to authorize a warrant located in the county in which the judge served.
Additionally, applications for warrants can now be made by electronic devices, including email, using electronic or digital signatures. In fact, if the request comes from a law enforcement agency-issued cell phone, the officer need only include a name and badge number without any signature or other authentication. Previously, officers could only get warrants via telephone and had to have actual signatures, so it also required a fax.
Similarly, judges can authorize warrants simply by email or other electronic response. This law seemingly provides for more immediate access to judges for cops seeking warrants, but one has to wonder whether veracity loses out to convenience in this deal. This law dispenses with a lot of the traditional trappings of trustworthiness solemnity and formality underlying judicial authority to restrict civil liberties. Only time will tell if the “electronic substitutes” are an adequate replacement.