You have constitutional protection whenever a federal agent comes to seize or search your property. The Fourth Amendment of the American constitution enshrines the rights of citizens against searches and seizures. The amendment also states that government agents shall not violate your rights, and the issue of a search warrant is only with probable cause. Contact a Sean Fagan Criminal Defence Lawyer if a federal agent violates your rights and searches your premises without a search warrant. Let’s look at how a federal search warrant works and the grounds for contesting its legality.
What is a Federal Search Warrant?
When a federal agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has probable cause to believe you were involved in a crime, they can request a court to issue a search warrant and search your home or business premise. A search warrant is a document issued by a federal judge or magistrate that authorizes federal agents to search you or your property for any evidence linking you to criminal activity. However, a search warrant is not an accusation or indication of guilt on your part.
Federal law enforcement agents must give information via a written affidavit that supports their suspicions. The information must also contain the possibility that they will find crime evidence during the search. This information might stem from an informant or federal agent’s observation. It becomes an unlawful search if the warrant does not have accurate details about what the agents will search, such as a home or vehicle.
If the federal law enforcement agents provide the judge with enough information on the facts stated in the affidavit, the judge signs the search and seizure warrant. The document allows the agents to search and seize any relevant property on your premises as stated therein.
Execution of Federal Search Warrants
The search warrant is only executable by government officials such as police officers. A private citizen cannot execute a search warrant. If unreasonable delays occur, causing the untimely execution of the warrant, the grounds of probable cause may become compromised or evidence destroyed.
However, the agents can seek an outstanding warrant. It is referred to as an unexecuted warrant, open or active warrant. Such warrants stay open until federal agents execute or a court cancels them. Federal agents such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) or FBI may execute outstanding warrants without warning.
Under federal law, the agents should execute the warrant between six in the morning and ten o’clock in the evening unless under exceptional circumstances. A knock-and-announce rule must accompany the search warrant. When searching a place, the officer must knock and announce themselves as a government agent and their purpose before they enter. The agents can use force to enter if they have waited for a reasonable time or the owner refuses entry.
After the magistrate or judge issues a search warrant, the top federal criminal lawyers agents have fourteen days to enforce the search warrant. The warrant identifies:
- Name of the person on the warrant
- The property they will search or seize
- The judge to preside over the discovered evidence
Most search warrants co-occur with arrests. If the officers do not arrest you, it does not mean your woes are over. Law enforcement officers take out most search warrants when gathering evidence, and you may only get charged when they gather enough evidence to indict you.
Challenging a Federal Search Warrant’s Legality
You can challenge a search or seizure warrant’s legality on a person or property. Your federal criminal lawyer must prove sufficient grounds for this claim, such as:
- Location of search, for instance, if the warrant says they will search the living room and they searched the bedroom.
- Particular items seized: If the agents were supposed to seize your computer and they took your phone.
- False statements supporting the affidavit
- How the agents executed the warrant
- The probable cause used to obtain the search warrant
- Unreliable evidence that the agent used to support the affidavit
- Informant’s credibility
There are several ways of attacking a warrant’s legality. For example, if the agents executed the warrant and seized items not listed in the document, your lawyer can challenge the items from being used as evidence against you. The judge can suppress the seized items if the lawyer proves the agents obtained the evidence unlawfully. The lawyer can also attack the warrant’s legitimacy by contesting it in a federal court. If the agents failed to provide sufficient probable cause when requesting the document, the court could quash the warrant, and the collected items cannot be held in court as evidence against you.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable and unlawful searches and seizures. If you go through a search, ensure you contact a criminal defense lawyer to examine the case details and develop a strategy for the best outcome.