Responding To Federal Search Warrants
If federal agents unexpectedly knock on the door of your business, it is critical to consider your next steps carefully. The use of search warrants is one of the most effective methods for the government to obtain information to use against you in a criminal investigation. Businesses of any size may be subject to a search conducted by a group of federal investigators.
Your attorney should be prepared to travel quickly to the location of the business as the search happens. At Landrum & Shouse LLP, our lawyers know how to respond to federal search warrants in a way that maximizes the privacy and interests of the business. With experience in criminal defense and business law, we are well-positioned to assist businesses with federal crime investigations.
What To Expect During A Search
After your legal counsel arrives at the business and identifies their purpose, they will try to find out which agent is in charge and get some dialogue going. The attorney should also obtain the name of the assistant United States attorney who is responsible for this investigation. Agents report directly to the U.S. attorney’s office in these investigations.
While the attorney certainly does not want to create the impression that he or she is obstructing justice, there should be some effort made to view which areas of the business are being searched and what documents are being obtained. In the world of electronically stored data, it is not uncommon that computers and their hard drives are seized as part of the process of serving a search warrant. Efforts should be made to retrieve electronically stored data as quickly as possible so that the interruption of the business can be minimized.
Probable Cause And Protecting Confidential Information
Generally speaking, the laws concerning the use of search warrants do not require that any emergency circumstances exist in order to obtain the warrant. Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that a search warrant can be obtained simply when there is probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred and that there may be evidence of the crime located in the place to be searched.
The attorney should also get a copy of the search warrant and review its contents to see if the search and seizure is exceeding the scope of the warrant. Search warrants typically include an affidavit, which contains information about why the search or seizure may have probable cause. Access to the affidavit can be helpful, but they are often inaccessible during the search itself.
As part of any effort to monitor the search, your attorney should be on the lookout for any privileged documents that may be contained in rooms or filing cabinets. These records are frequently intermingled with nonprivileged materials. Most federal agencies are aware that reviewing privileged information is problematic. They should agree to separate privileged communication, such as digital files on a searched and seized computer so that a separate team can review the documents at a later time.
Counteract The Element Of Surprise
The serving of a search warrant on a company is rarely telegraphed and almost always catches the business and its employees off guard. From the agent’s perspective, this provides an excellent opportunity to interview company employees in a way that they may not be able to do in the future.
While attorneys should never instruct a company’s employee not to participate in an interview, it should be stated that the employee can have counsel present during an interview and that any interview should be withheld until an attorney is provided.
These are some very basic suggestions to consider in the event a search is conducted on a business. Never hesitate to call our Louisville office at 502-589-7616 or our Lexington office at 859-554-4038 if you would like to discuss this further.