Even if you suspect or know that you or your business is under criminal investigation, it can still be a shock when law enforcement officers show up at your door with a search warrant. As we’ve seen in many high-profile cases, these searches are often carried out before the sun comes up – particularly when they involve someone’s residence.
If you weren’t even aware that you were under investigation or thought you had already given law enforcement what they needed, an unexpected search and seizure operation can indeed leave you unable to think clearly.
Officers are required to give you a copy of the warrant. However, it may be difficult to focus on the contents of it and determine what it says – particularly if you’re not a legal or law enforcement professional. You particularly need to pay attention to the following information, which must be included in the warrant.
A description of the property and areas to be searched
The warrant needs to describe the place that is being searched. If it’s a home, it should have the address. Make sure the address is accurate. Police have been known to be given or show up at the wrong address.
Some warrants are more detailed than others. If law enforcement believes evidence of a crime could be anywhere in your home, the description may be fairly broad. In some cases, however, it may be limited to one room or one office within a suite of offices.
What items can be seized
This is usually more specific, but not always. For example, if a business office is being searched, it may designate that all computers and electronic devices as well as USB drives and paper files can be seized. Anything that appears to be evidence of a crime that’s in “plain view” can also legally be seized. That could be anything that’s open and visible that an officer can spot inadvertently without looking for it.
You can watch officers conduct the search, but don’t try to prevent or hinder it. That’s a surefire way to get arrested. It’s more important to pay attention to what is being searched and seized and to seek legal counsel immediately. If any part of the search or seizure was illegal (and even if it was perfectly conducted according to the law), this is the best way to protect your rights.