Search Warrant Execution: When Your Business Is the Target of a Criminal Investigation
Businesses have been more frequently become targets of criminal investigations over the past couple of decades. The term “overcriminalization” is often used when discussing how the federal government goes after businesses and their employees for alleged regulatory violations. When the federal government raids businesses, the amount of property and information the government seizes is often enormous. Unfortunately, search and seizure issues cannot be challenged in court until after federal agents have stormed a business office and taken data and physical property.
For a white collar criminal defense attorney, a quick response to a government search is imperative.
What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do When a Search Warrant Is Being Executed?
While many larger corporations have plans in place for what to do if law enforcement shows up at the reception desk, most companies have no such plan. When a white collar lawyer defending the company arrives on site, his job is to protect his or her client and minimize the impact of the search on the business, customers, and employees.
Upon learning of the search warrant, most companies will contact outside counsel immediately and request that law enforcement wait to execute the warrant until counsel is present. However, law enforcement is under no obligation to wait until an attorney representing the company arrives. When a company has general counsel present, general counsel will often seek the immediate assistance of a white collar criminal defense lawyer to assist in monitoring the search.
Boots on the Ground
Once a white collar attorney gets on the ground, his or her job is to identify the lead agent and begin gathering information to include:
- The names of both law enforcement agents and company employees present;
- Purpose of search;
- Names of government agencies involved in the search; and
- The name and office of the prosecutor to whom the case has been assigned.
During this time, the white collar criminal defense attorney ensures that the search is limited to the areas and materials listed in the search warrant. It is not unusual for law enforcement to determine that they want to search things outside the warrant’s scope, prompting a request for consent to search. White collar counsel generally denies consent to search. The government can always seek an additional warrant to search areas not listed in the original warrant if necessary, but it’s the white collar attorney’s job to make sure the government is not bullying the company into allowing the search to go outside the parameters set in the search warrant.
What About the Workers?
Government searches are hard on businesses. The government likes to use the element of surprise in executing search warrants and may conduct the search when the office is open for business. When this happens, clients and/or customers may be present. The attorney will advise key employees as to their obligations regarding how to handle incoming customers and how to preserve documents and other materials while the search is conducted. Employees will also be advised of their right to independent counsel.
Controlling the Search
While a white collar lawyer does not have much control over what the federal agents are doing, it is his or her duty to ensure the agents understand the company is not waiving privileges. He or she is ensuring that the company is protecting its privileged documentation and information. If law enforcement seizes trade secrets or privileged information, a white collar lawyer will inform the assigned prosecutor that protected materials have been seized. The lawyer will then discuss how that information will be protected and/or reviewed. While this can be done informally, often it requires getting the court involved to protect the businesses’ and its employees’ rights.
Know What They Took
Law enforcement must inventory any seized property, including documents and photographs taken. In some cases, documentation, computers and other items seized by the government are necessary to business operations. A white collar defense attorney will likely have to negotiate or fight in court to get access to that information and/or systems so the company can continue to run during the investigation.
Dealing with the Damage
The execution of a search warrant interrupts workplace operations and directly affects the lives of employees. A white collar defense attorney will often debrief every employee present during the search and document discussions agents had with employees, as well as any observations employees made during the raid.
The execution of a search warrant on a business can be both disruptive and traumatic for employees and customers. When a white collar criminal defense attorney is contacted, he or she rides in like the cavalry: quickly and with a sense of purpose. However, without any real weapons, the white collar criminal defense attorney’s role is to get on-site, maintain order, and protect the interests of the company. An attorney will not be able to stop the warrant from being executed, but she or she should be able to mitigate the damage done by the search.
If your business is being targeted by a criminal investigation, contact the team of white collar attorneys at Berry Law Firm today.