If law enforcement authorities believe you’ve committed a federal crime, they’ll want to look for evidence of your guilt. Authorities might suspect you of a crime regardless of whether you’ve actually broken the law. In that case, they can’t just invade your property because they feel like it. They have to go through the process of getting a federal search warrant. Next, they have to perform their search according to specific legal standards.
A search warrant authorizes law enforcement officials to search your property. To get one, officials at federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation must go before a federal judge and make a compelling case that you may have committed a crime. They must also convince the federal judge that a search of your property is likely to reveal further criminal evidence. If a judge is satisfied with the justifications for seeking a search warrant, they will grant the warrant.
Law enforcement authorities don’t warn you before executing a search. They want to catch you unawares so that you won’t have time to hide potential evidence. It can be deeply distressing when, seemingly out of nowhere, you’re faced with people who burst onto your property because they believe you’re a criminal.
If you suspect that law enforcement officials might serve you with a federal search warrant — or if you’ve already been subjected to a federal search — it’s vital that you contact an attorney with experience in this area.
Not all attorneys have sufficient experience. Even attorneys who understand the ins and outs of state-level search warrants might be unable to help you. State laws are complex, and federal laws are even more complicated. Additionally, federal laws sometimes conflict with state laws. You need somebody with enough experience to understand all the tricky details of federal search warrants.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment shields United States citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. As mentioned above, law enforcement agents cannot do whatever they please. Through every stage of the search and seizure process, they must refrain from violating the Fourth Amendment. If they make any procedural mistakes, their search might be illegal.
The Fourth Amendment outlines several constraints upon searches:
Various laws outline the limits of probable cause. Law enforcement authorities must establish a compelling case that, based on the information they already have, a reasonable person would suspect the existence of criminal activity.
The Fourth Amendment is not the only thing that matters, though. Over time, legislators and judges have clarified, restricted, and added to the constraints outlined in the Fourth Amendment.
Challenging a Warrant
Sometimes, law enforcement authorities mess up. Perhaps they do something wrong when seeking a warrant. In other cases, they might make a mistake while executing a search. If an attorney can successfully establish that the authorities broke the law, some or even all of the evidence from a search might become invalid.
A judge will try to consider the big picture when deciding whether a search was legal. However, conveying all the relevant information to a judge can be difficult unless you know what you’re doing. An attorney with experience defending against federal criminal charges will know which details matter. Problems with any of the following issues could invalidate a search:
No two cases are the same, so there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. The right criminal defense attorney will examine the unique details of your situation to determine the best way to move forward.
Though the federal government has the right to seek and execute search warrants, you do have rights. If authorities did something wrong during one or more steps of the search process, they might have broken the law.
Federal criminal defense lawyers understand the legal constraints surrounding searches, and they know where to look for potential mistakes from authorities. If you’ve been subjected to a federal search, you might benefit from contacting a criminal defense attorney.
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