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You’ve probably watched at least one movie where FBI agents come to a person’s home and start searching. Watching this unfold on the movie screen can be scary enough, but when it happens in real life, it can be downright frightening. Since federal agents don’t typically offer prior notice that they’re coming to serve a search warrant, you will likely be taken by surprise and thrown off guard.
While your initial reaction may be panic and fright, there are a few things you should do right away to protect yourself.
Request a Copy of the Search Warrant
Federal agents may only search your proper with an official search warrant signed by a federal judge or with your consent. Your first step should be to ask the federal agents for a copy of the search warrant. If they don’t have a search warrant, you are under no obligation to give them permission to enter your property, and you should not grant them this permission without first talking to a criminal law attorney.
To obtain a search warrant, federal officials must provide information, reports, and testimony to a federal judge. If the judge believes that there is probable cause, the judge can sign a search warrant allowing federal agents to search your premises.
A copy of the search warrant will provide you with several key components of the investigation. First, it should list what specific federal agency, such as the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) or the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), is serving the search warrant. Secondly, the search warrant will lay out what specific items, materials, and documents federal agents can search for and what areas of your property they can search.
Agents have the authority to remove any items listed in the search warrant that they find on your property. Agents also have the power to take any items, such as unregistered guns, that show signs of a possible crime, even if these items are not in the search warrant.
Contact a Criminal Law Attorney
Once you have a copy of the search warrant, your next step is to contact a criminal law attorney that has experience handling federal cases. It is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will want to see the official search warrant, so it’s important to hold onto it and keep it in a secure location. If you cannot immediately speak to your attorney, it is vital that you gather as much information as possible about the search itself.
For example, you should request the names or business cards for each federal agent participating in the search. You also want to track where agents search and what items they remove from your home. Because these situations can be very stressful and chaotic, it may not be easy to keep track of everything going on during the search. That’s ok. Just do your best to jot down what you do remember after the agents leave. You can then provide this document to your attorney.
Federal investigations can take months or even years to complete, so just because federal agents didn’t serve you with an arrest warrant doesn’t mean that you don’t need legal representation. Your best option is to contact an attorney as soon as possible. The earlier you bring attorneys into the process, the better able they will be to represent you fully.
Don’t Answer Any Questions
A search warrant does not give federal agents the right to questions you without a lawyer present, but that doesn’t mean the federal agents won’t try. They are free to ask you any questions they want. In some cases, agents may use this time to try to get you to provide information that may incriminate you later. You will protect yourself by remaining silent during the search until you have had time to consult with your attorney. Even if the federal agents serve an arrest warrant with the search warrant, it is important to evoke your fifth amendment right (Miranda Rights)and remain silent until your attorney can adequately represent you.
If federal agents have arrived at your front door with a search warrant, it’s essential to act fast. Start by asking for a copy of the search warrant and then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible