If your home or work has been searched by federal agents, then you are probably the subject or target of a federal investigation. Agents usually arrive at your door early in the morning armed with a search warrant. Agents surprise a suspect to enable them to seize inculpatory evidence. Were a suspect to have advanced knowledge of a search warrant raid, then a suspect could obstruct the investigation by manipulating, destroying, or tamper with the evidence.
It is not uncommon for agents to seize electronic devices pursuant to the search warrant. For instance, cellular devices, laptops, hard drives, and iPads are seized because they usually contain evidence. Unfortunately, agents may legally seize devices belonging to a suspects children or family members that are found in the home.
A search warrant execution upon your home or office can be a strong indication that federal indictment will follow. Contact our office today to schedule a free consultation with a federal criminal defense attorney.
What Federal Agencies Execute Search Warrants?
Federal agencies may include:
- Federal bureau of investigation (“FBI”),
- Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”),
- Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”),
- Office of the Inspector General,
- Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”),
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”),
- Security and Exchanges Commission (“SEC”).
Sheriff departments, local police departments, or investigators from the district attorney's office may also be present to provide assistance.
How Do Agents Obtain A Search Warrant?
The process entails drafting a detailed affidavit in support for a search warrant. The affidavit is made under penalty of perjury and it discusses the reason(s) why the agent requests a warrant to search a premises or device.
The search request must be supported with probable cause. Probable cause is when there is a reasonable basis to believe that a crime may have been committed or when evidence of a crime may be present in the place to be searched.
The affidavit is filed and reviewed by a U.S. Magistrate Judge. Among other formalities, if the probable cause evidentiary standard is met, the magistrate judge will sign the warrant authorizing the search.
Copy of the Warrant and Property Receipt
Agents must provide a copy of the search warrant to the owner or operator of the premises. If the property owners or operators are not present during the search, the agents will leave a copy of the warrant in a conspicuous place. An itemized list of property seized will also be given to the premise owner. However, if agents fail to comply with this requirement, it will not result in a technicality leading to a dismissal of your case.
Will Criminal Charges Follow?
Agents will not arrest someone despite having probable cause to do so. Criminal charges are usually brought after agents and prosecutors have reviewed all the evidence. However, if a search warrant is executed to seize your property, then criminal charges will probably follow. Retaining a federal crimes lawyer may help deflect the government's case against you so long as the right proactive steps are taken.
Challenging the Search Warrant in Court
You may challenge the legality of the search if charges are brought. Moreover, challenges to search warrants are made by filing a motion to suppress alleging a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Common examples include:
- The agent(s) intentionally or recklessly omitted material facts to the magistrate judge;
- The search warrant should not have been issued because it lacks probable cause;
- The agents uncovered evidence that was outside the permissible scope of the warrant.
If the judge grants a motion to suppress evidence, then the evidence will be ordered excluded from the case. Often times, the case will be dismissed because the prosecutor will be unable to proceed.
Obtaining a Copy of the Search Warrant Affidavit
Search warrants and the supporting affidavits are public information and can be obtained from the court. Since federal investigations are very secretive, the government usually requests that the search warrant and affidavit be sealed. Moreover, an affidavit may reveal information about a witness, investigative findings, and the agent's opinions. Also, affidavits could include information about cooperating witnesses. Therefore, making the affidavit public could compromise the government's ongoing investigation or cause suspects to retaliate against cooperating witnesses.
Returning Seized Property
Seized property can be returned unless the property contains evidence. For example, if a laptop computer contained files of stolen credit card information, then the government will not return this device until the case is over. However, if the device only contains family photographs that are not relevant to the case, then the government will return it. The government must conduct their investigation into the devices before returning them. Unfortunately, it could take weeks or even months before property is returned.
Contact Us If You Need A Federal Crimes Lawyer
If the federal government has executed a search warrant upon your property, then contact us for a free confidential consultation. Our experienced federal criminal defense attorneys can help you navigate through this unfamiliar process. Early intervention can mean the difference of spending time in prison or having your case rejected entirely from prosecution. Your future may be on the line, give us a call today.