Full Disclosure: Cognitive Science, Informants, and Search Warrant Scrutiny

60 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2012 Last revised: 6 May 2013

See all articles by Mary Bowman

Mary Bowman

Seattle University School of Law

Date Written: 2013


This article posits that cognitive biases play a significant role in the gap between the rhetoric regarding Fourth Amendment protection and actual practices regarding search warrant scrutiny, particularly for search warrants based on informants’ tips. Specifically, this article examines the ways in which implicit bias, tunnel vision, priming, and hindsight bias can affect search warrants. These biases can affect each stage of the search warrant process, including targeting decisions, the drafting process, the magistrate’s decision whether to grant the warrant, and post-search review by trial and appellate courts. These biases create room for informant falsehoods to go unchecked, with a likely disproportionate effect on minority communities. To address these effects, the article proposes a number of interconnected solutions, all revolving around the idea of full disclosure. The article proposes that police officers, magistrates, and judges all receive education about cognitive biases generally and the value of meaningful judicial review of warrants for combatting these biases. To facilitate this review, police should use a checklist when preparing search warrant applications to help them identify and disclose all relevant information. The article then suggests changes for judicial review of challenges to the accuracy and completeness of search warrant information. These revised standards should incentivize providing full disclosure and to ensure meaningful post-search review of magistrates’ decisions.

Keywords: Search Warrant, Cognitive Bias, Tunnel Vision, Confirmation Bias, Priming, Hindsight Bias, Implicit Bias, Racial Bias, Informants, Fourth Amendment, Magistrate, Checklist

Suggested Citation

Bowman, Mary, Full Disclosure: Cognitive Science, Informants, and Search Warrant Scrutiny (2013). Akron Law Review, Forthcoming; Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 13-09. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2191780 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2191780

Mary Bowman (Contact Author)

Seattle University School of Law ( email )

901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA n/a 98122-1090
United States

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