In white-collar criminal cases, the federal government has been utilizing search warrants more often than it had been in the past. While getting arrested can be a harrowing experience, finding yourself the subject of a search warrant can be almost as bad. Imagine arriving at work one morning and finding federal law enforcement officers rifling through your workplace. Even worse is waking up to find them at the door of your home, intent on searching it.
What Rules Apply to Search Warrants
In the United States, the Constitution specifies the conditions a search warrant much fulfill in order to be considered valid. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution specifically states: “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
But what exactly does this mean?
Foremost it means that law enforcement must demonstrate that there is probable cause to think that — if a judge issued a search warrant — law enforcement officers would discover proof of a crime. In federal cases, federal agents must issue what is called an affidavit, which lists facts pertaining to the case, and they must deliver it to a federal judge. This judge, who is typically a magistrate judge, will then determine if there is sufficient evidence to justify the search warrant.
A search warrant also specifies how law enforcement officials can conduct a particular search. It limits the location(s) of a search and what evidence officers may seize as evidence. This means that holders of a search warrant cannot search locations not specified in the search warrant, nor can they seize any item not specifically indicated in the warrant.
What Are the Implications of the Federal Government Receiving a Search Warrant for Your Place of Work
If federal law officers have received a search warrant for your place of work, this means that they have facts that indicate a crime was committed there. It further means that they presented these facts to a federal judge and that this person agreed that there was probable cause to search your workplace.
If the federal government has received a warrant to search your place of work, you should carefully consider what they could be looking for. Also consider if you are involved in this case in any way, and, if so, you should strongly consider hiring an attorney.
While they are investigating a crime in a workplace, federal agents will frequently ask questions relating to the investigation to those working there. The FBI often surprises a witness by asking these questions during the course of the search, knowing that this surprise can lead to a witness saying something that they can use against them later in a court of law.
Having federal agents interview you during the execution of a search warrant can be a frightening experience, especially as this could lead you into making incriminating statements. But these interviews can also help you discover the exact nature of the investigation.
Keep in mind that federal agents — when executing a search warrant — may collect items from your workplace. This can include computer equipment and storage devices as well as phones. They are doing this in order to find evidence on them, such as incriminating emails or texts.
Often, federal agents will make copies of storage devices and then return them to you so that you can use them. They will further allow you and your attorney to see what information they took from your workplace. But, before this happens, agents must first send this information to a computer lab, which can take a significant amount of time.