Having the FBI, DEA, IRS or other federal agents show up at your door with a search warrant is one of the most terrifying and shocking things you can have happen to you. If you have ever been involved in a federal criminal investigation and you had federal agents search your home, you probably felt threatened and powerless, and that is exactly how they wanted you to feel. By showing up unannounced, entering your personal space and executing a search warrant, they are showing you that they have the power to go wherever they want and root through your personal belongings and that you don’t have the power or authority to stop them. Searches are typically executed quickly and without your prior knowledge, which is why it is important to know now what to do first if federal agents come to your home with a search warrant. Contact our reputable defense lawyers at Federal Criminal Defense Pro today for more information about protecting yourself against unlawful or unreasonable searches by the federal government.
What You Should Do
Search warrants can be executed by the federal government at any time of day or night, and it is normal to feel frightened and nervous when faced with a hostile search of your home, even if you haven’t done anything wrong. It is important to remember that, under the law, the agents have a right to search your home. However, the laws governing the legality of searches and seizures are not limitless. By ensuring that you understand the law and equipping yourself with the valuable information we have provided you with here, you can protect your rights during and after any future searches of your home.
Collect as much information as you can.
Whether you knew you were involved in a federal investigation or not, you will want to collect as much information as you can from the agents who come to your home. They will likely leave you with the search warrant and their business cards, and if you didn’t know about your involvement in any criminal case, these documents will give you your first clue as to the nature of the case. For instance, if the agents are from the DEA, you know the investigation has a drug case component to it, or if the agents are from the IRS, you know the search has something to do with the tax code. Furthermore, once you hire a lawyer, your lawyer will be able to contact the agent directly, and through the agent, speak to the prosecutor assigned to the case. Opening the lines of communication early can signal to the government that you are willing to cooperate and believe you are innocent of any federal crimes.
Hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Now is a good time to hire a federal criminal defense attorney. Not only can your attorney talk to the prosecutor and find out what potential crimes the government is looking at, he can also start working on your case. Once you know what the case is regarding, your attorney can begin conducting his own investigation and strategizing possible defenses. In many instances, the federal government spends years investigating a criminal case. Unfortunately, your attorney will probably only have a few short months to play catch-up, so the sooner you hire an attorney, the sooner he can get to work on your defense, and the stronger your case will be. When choosing legal counsel, keep in mind that you want an attorney who is familiar with federal criminal law and has experience handling criminal cases in federal court. If you end up facing federal charges, you will want a lawyer on your side who can represent you at trial.
Write down the details of the search.
Even the federal government must comply with the laws set forth by the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution requires in most cases that agents searching a person’s home do so in a reasonable manner. If the agents entered your home without announcing themselves, refused to show you the warrant, didn’t allow you to get dressed, or acted in some other unreasonable manner, your attorney may be able to get any evidence the agents find during the search thrown out. During or after the search, write down everything you can remember about the search in a document for your attorney to review, including how many agents there were, what time they arrived at your home, whether they talked to you, how they treated you, what was said by all parties, and anything else you can remember. Write “Attorney Client Privileged” at the top of each page and explain at the beginning of the document that the notes are meant for your attorney.
Know your rights.
Any time you are under investigation for a federal criminal offense, you need to be aware of your two most important rights: your right to remain silent and your right to legal counsel. Don’t get roped into defending yourself to the agents searching your home or answering questions that seem innocent enough but are really designed to confuse you and make you admit that you broke the law. The consequences of a federal criminal conviction are far-reaching and long-lasting and if you want to protect your future and your freedom, it is important that you don’t say anything to anyone without consulting your attorney.
Familiarize yourself with the law.
Federal agents are prohibited from entering your home except under specific circumstances, which includes having a valid search warrant. A search warrant is a court order issued by a judge during the course of a criminal investigation, authorizing law enforcement officers to carry out a search of a person, vehicle or location to find and seize any evidence pertaining to a criminal offense. In order to get a search warrant, federal agents must have presented to a magistrate judge a written affidavit explaining the reasons why they believe you committed a federal offense and why they believe they will find evidence of that crime in your home. If the judge agrees with the facts laid out by the agents, he or she will sign the warrant and give the agents permission to search your home.
Find out what the search means in your case.
If government agents come to your home with a search warrant, it means there is a federal criminal investigation underway and the authorities investigating the crime have reason to believe there is evidence of the crime in your home. With a skilled federal criminal defense attorney on your side, you can find out what type of evidence the agents were looking for so you have a better idea of how you should move forward.
What You Should Not Do
It is important to familiarize yourself with the law to some extent and understand the nature and scope of a search warrant as it pertains to a federal criminal case, so you know what not to do if federal agents come to your home with a search warrant. The following are some examples of what you shouldn’t do in this situation.
Don’t talk to the agents.
Anything you say to the agents searching your home can be used against you, so it is important to remain calm and stay silent throughout the search. Even if you are confident that you don’t have anything to hide, your first priority should be to seek legal counsel as soon as possible, not to convince the agents searching your home that you are innocent. Leave it up to your attorney to contact the agency conducting the investigation and find out what they are looking for.
If you do talk to the agents without your attorney present, you should always tell the truth. Lying to federal agents is a criminal offense on its own, whether you are under oath or not, and you could end up being prosecuted for that crime. Under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, making false statements to a federal agent is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison for each offense.
Don’t try to hide anything.
It is normal to feel panicked when federal agents show up at your door, but the last thing you want to do is attempt to hide something or destroy evidence that you think could get you in trouble. It is likely the agents will end up finding the evidence anyway and you could end up facing additional charges for obstruction of justice if you are accused of destroying, tampering with or modifying documents or other evidence pertaining to the criminal investigation. Under 18 U.S.C. § 1519, impeding a federal investigation by tampering with evidence is a criminal offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Don’t speak to anyone about the search but your attorney.
If you talk to anyone other than your attorney about the search of your home or the federal criminal investigation, those people could end up being questioned by the government or subpoenaed by a grand jury, in which case they would be bound by law to relay exactly what you said. If this happens, and your statements end up being misconstrued, the government may think you were attempting to tamper with a witness or obstruct justice by interfering with the investigation. These facts can be used against you as evidence in your case and you could even end up facing additional criminal charges as a result.
Don’t assume the warrant was valid.
Just because the agents had a search warrant in hand, doesn’t mean the warrant was valid. According to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, there are certain criteria a search warrant must meet in order for it to be valid. The law states that “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.” In other words, search warrants must be based on probable cause, meaning it is reasonably likely that the search will uncover evidence of a crime, and when executing a search warrant, federal agents are generally only authorized to search particular locations and seize specific items. If the search warrant was deficient in some way, meaning it wasn’t based on probable cause or was overly broad in its description of where the agents were permitted to search, your attorney may be able to get any evidence obtained during the search thrown out.
Don’t let your rights be violated.
You might expect federal agents to act within the confines of the law at all times, but we all know that isn’t always the case. Don’t assume either that, just because you are involved in a federal criminal investigation, your rights don’t matter. You have the right to be treated in a reasonable manner during a search of your home, and if the agents violate this right, be sure to provide your attorney with this information, including as much detail as possible.
Our Trusted Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help
The government’s primary goal in executing a search warrant at your home is to find incriminating evidence related to an ongoing federal criminal investigation. A search of your home can feel like a personal violation of your private space, and that’s exactly what it is. Unfortunately, in the midst of dealing with these feelings, you also have to find out what it means for you and your loved ones to have federal agents show up at your home with a search warrant. At Federal Criminal Defense Pro, our criminal defense attorneys understand how confusing and traumatic this experience can be and we know that getting answers right away is your top priority. If the federal government has executed a search warrant at your home, it means you are in some way involved in a federal criminal investigation, and your best course of action under these circumstances is to hire a practiced, aggressive criminal defense attorney. Our lawyers at Federal Criminal Defense Pro can help you determine the nature and scope of the government’s investigation, find out how it involves you and diligently protect your rights.