Search warrants are used by local, state and federal law enforcement entities to gather evidence and information about the target of an investigation or a witness related to one. The only notice you will receive that a search warrant is to be executed at your home is when law enforcement officers arrive at your front door. What you do next will either help or harm your defense.
What To Do
When the police, FBI, DEA or other agents arrive with a warrant, you should do the following:
- Provide Only Basic Information. The number one thing that law enforcement usually wants to do is speak to the individual they are executing the search warrant on. Their goal is to have you make what is called a voluntary statement and incriminate yourself. These officers and agents hope that you will believe it will help your case to cooperate with them. Do not fall for this ruse. Tell them only basic information, such as your name, and make a statement that you will only answer further questions in the presence of your attorney.
- Contact an Attorney. Immediately contact a qualified criminal defense attorney, such as our firm, so that you do not make any statements to law enforcement that could potentially incriminate you. They must allow you do so and don’t let them convince you that requesting an attorney is an indication of guilt. It isn’t. It is an indication of intelligence.
- Know Your Rights. The police or agents will only read your rights if you are placed under arrest, which rarely happens during the execution of a search warrant. Some officers will tell you that you are not under arrest and free to leave so that these rights don’t apply. This isn’t true. You still have all the legal rights including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Be polite but firm that you want to exercise your constitutional right to an attorney.
- Tell Your Family to Follow These Rules. If other family or household members are present, tell them to provide only basic information and then remain silent. This protects both you and them.
- Ask for a Copy of the Search Warrant. Review the search warrant and ask for a copy. Once your attorney arrives at your home, give him or her a copy immediately. Your lawyer will review it to assure that law enforcement has followed proper procedures.
The law enforcement agents are not there to help you, but to find evidence of a crime. Contact an attorney and exercise your right to remain silent to support your defense.
What NOT To Do
Sometimes the simplest question from law enforcement can seriously damage your defense. For this reason:
- Do not acknowledge that a computer or phone belongs to you. Even if it does, it is their job to prove it, not your job to help them.
- Do not give passwords for computers or phones. If you give them the passwords, it implies that you have an ownership interest in the devise, which can harm your defense. There also may be incriminating evidence on the device and you do not want to provide access to it.
- Do not show them the locations of safes or provide lock codes or combinations.
- Do not allow family or household members to acknowledge ownership or provide passwords.
- Do not hinder the execution of the warrant. While you don’t want to be helpful in the process, you do not want to obstruct it either. Do not yell at law enforcement officials, but remain polite and repeat as often as necessary that you will not answer questions without an attorney present.
Remember that while the agents have a job to do, you are under no obligation to assist them. Do not do or say anything that will help them gather evidence or link you to a device that contains incriminating information.
After the Search Warrant Is Executed.
As soon the search warrant has been executed and law enforcement has left, hire an expert criminal defense attorney. By hiring a lawyer immediately, they can work proactively on your defense and potentially mitigate charges. Your lawyer will:
- Contact the appropriate law enforcement agency or office and get more information about the situation. For example, the lawyer will learn if you truly the target of the investigation or a witness.
- Make statements on your behalf that cannot be used against you, in essence acting as a buffer.
- Gather information so you know what evidence they have against you and other aspects of the case.
With this information, you and your lawyer can develop a strategy and start actively defending your case. The attorney can also negotiate on your behalf, reducing charges or even prevent them from being filed. If you are arrested, which can occur over a year after the search warrant was executed, the attorney can present to protect your interests and secure a bond for your release.
Ben Stechschulte is an expert, board certified criminal defense attorney and has represented numerous clients who were the subject of a search warrant. He understands exactly how to best serve his client’s during and after the warrant is executed and provide the best possible defense under these conditions. Contact our offices to schedule an appointment and learn more about how we can help meet your legal needs.