Federal Search Warrant Defense - Federal Lawyer
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Federal Search Warrant Defense

Learn How to Respond (and How Not to Respond) to a Federal Search Warrant from the Lawyers at Oberheiden P.C.

Dr. Nick Oberheiden
Attorney Nick Oberheiden
Federal Search Warrant Team Lead envelope icon Contact Nick

Several federal agencies leverage the power of search warrants when conducting law enforcement investigations. If you (or someone within your organization) has been served with a federal search warrant, it is imperative that you know what to do (and what not to do) next. Our former federal prosecutors and special agents can guide you through the process, and we can communicate effectively with the investigating agency on your organization’s behalf.

Former Federal Prosecutors and Special Agents Experienced in Search Warrant Defense

Federal search warrants present substantial risks. Not only does receiving a search warrant mean that an investigation is underway—meaning that you need to be prepared to present a strategic defense, but failing to properly respond to the search warrant can have its own adverse legal consequences as well.

When you contact Oberheiden P.C. about responding to a federal search warrant, our former federal prosecutors and special agents can get to work on an emergency basis. We can take action immediately, and we can intervene in the government’s investigation to protect your company (and perhaps you personally) while we evaluate the search warrant and begin formulating a defense strategy.

If you need to respond to a search warrant from the DEA, DOJ, FBI, an OIG, or any other federal law enforcement agency, we strongly encourage you to contact us right away.

Put our highly experienced team on your side

Dr. Nick Oberheiden
Dr. Nick Oberheiden

Founder

Attorney-at-Law

Lynette S. Byrd
Lynette S. Byrd

Former DOJ Trial Attorney

Partner

Brian J. Kuester
Brian J. Kuester

Former U.S. Attorney

Amanda Marshall
Amanda Marshall

Former U.S. Attorney

Local Counsel

Joe Brown
Joe Brown

Former U.S. Attorney

Local Counsel

John W. Sellers
John W. Sellers

Former Senior DOJ Trial Attorney

Linda Julin McNamara
Linda Julin McNamara

Federal Appeals Attorney

Aaron L. Wiley
Aaron L. Wiley

Former DOJ attorney

Local Counsel

Roger Bach
Roger Bach

Former Special Agent (DOJ)

Chris Quick
Chris J. Quick

Former Special Agent (FBI & IRS-CI)

Michael S. Koslow
Michael S. Koslow

Former Supervisory Special Agent (DOD-OIG)

Ray Yuen
Ray Yuen

Former Supervisory Special Agent (FBI)

Federal Search Warrant Response

Responding to a federal search warrant needs to be a structured and strategic process. Ideally, this will mean following a set of pre-established response protocols outlined in the company’s policies and procedures. But, regardless of whether a company has response protocols in place, the following steps should be taken promptly to protect the company and its owners, executives, and personnel:

1. Engage Experienced Federal Defense Counsel

Effectively managing the risks associated with service of a federal search warrant requires experienced defense counsel. Upon being served with a federal search warrant, companies should immediately engage outside counsel to formulate and oversee their response while communicating with the federal agents executing the search warrant on their behalf.

2. Establish the Response Team

Upon engaging counsel, company leaders should work with counsel to establish the organization’s response team. Typically, this team will include executives, in-house counsel (if any), high-ranking IT personnel, and other relevant subject matter experts. An organized response is crucial, and companies need to tightly control all aspects of the response process.

3. Assign Roles and Responsibilities

Each member of the response team should be assigned a specific role and should have specific responsibilities. If someone doesn’t have a specific role and responsibilities, then their services aren’t needed at this time. All members of the response team should be fully capable of fulfilling their responsibilities independently, though they should also know when the advice of counsel is necessary.

4. Control the Flow of Information

When facing a search in support of a federal law enforcement investigation, search warrant recipients need to control the flow of information. This means that counsel should be involved in all interactions with special agents unless otherwise specified, and only authorized personnel should be permitted to assist with the handover of hardcopy records and providing access to the company’s electronic files.

5. Work with the Investigating Agency to Establish Communication Channels and Parameters for the Search

Generally, it will be possible to work with the investigating agency to establish specific communication channels as well as parameters for the agency’s search. Special agents will need the company’s help to ensure that they are gathering all information covered under the search warrant, and this provides an opportunity for companies and their counsel to insert themselves into the process.

6. Prevent Destruction or Obfuscation of Responsive Materials

As with any legal matter, upon being served with a federal search warrant, companies must work with their counsel to implement a sufficient legal hold. Among other things, this means preventing the destruction or obfuscation of responsive materials—which itself can lead to criminal prosecution under federal law.

7. Protect Privileged Information

While it is important that companies not withhold responsive materials (whether intentionally or inadvertently) when responding to a federal search warrant, it is equally important that companies not disclose any privileged information. At Oberheiden P.C., we take a proactive and systematic approach to ensuring that our clients meet their response obligations without exposing themselves unnecessarily.

8. Document as Much as Possible

During the execution of a federal search warrant, it is critical to document as much as possible. Companies and their counsel should seek to maintain an inventory of all materials and information seized, document all communications with special agents, and make note of any issues that may provide grounds to challenge the search warrant’s execution.

9. Request an Inventory of All Items Seized

Along with maintaining their own inventory, companies can (and should) request a copy of the investigating agency’s inventory as well. The agents conducting the investigation should confirm that the inventory is complete and accurate.

10. Determine Your Next Steps

Finally, once the search is over, the company’s leadership team should immediately begin working with outside defense counsel to determine the company’s next steps. Along with building a defense strategy focused on the specific issues at hand, this should include determining whether grounds exist to challenge the subpoena’s issuance or execution and confirming whether the company has a comprehensive picture of all materials and information seized during the government’s search.

What Not To Do During the Execution of a Federal Search Warrant

While taking the steps discussed above (among others) is crucial when responding to a federal search warrant, companies and their personnel must be careful to avoid several potentially costly mistakes as well. For example, during the execution of a federal search warrant, companies generally should not:

  • Allow (either expressly or implicitly) the destruction, removal, or relocation of anything that may be subject to the search warrant
  • Allow personnel who are not part of the response team to communicate with federal agents (generally, any personnel who are not involved in the response should be sent home)
  • Authorize federal agents to access any records, databases, or locations that are not covered under the scope of the search warrant as written 
  • Voluntarily provide information that is beyond the scope of the search warrant in an effort to appear “helpful”
  • Make any assumptions about the investigating agency’s intentions or the scope of its investigation

When you contact Oberheiden P.C. about a federal search warrant, we will explain everything you need to know—including what not to do during your company’s response. We are available to respond to search warrants nationwide, and our emergency response team is available 24/7.

FAQs: Responding to a Federal Search Warrant

What is a Federal Search Warrant (and What Are Its Implications)?

A federal search warrant is a formal order requested by a federal law enforcement officer and issued by a federal magistrate judge authorizing the search of a particular location and the seizure of records and other information that may constitute evidence of a federal crime. Companies and individuals that receive federal search warrants must generally comply, though there are grounds to challenge the validity and scope of federal search warrants authorized by federal law enforcement officers in appropriate cases.

What Is the Law on Federal Searches and Seizures?

Federal laws give judges broad authority to issue search warrants and authorize seizures. The law also generally instructs judges to defer to federal agencies’ investigative expertise—with the resultant effect that judges routinely issue search warrants requested with adequate apparent justification. However, there are limits to the government’s ability to conduct searches and seizures, and knowing these limits is critical for responding to a federal search warrant appropriately.

Which Federal Agencies Can Obtain (and Execute) Search Warrants?

Numerous federal agencies use search warrants to gather evidence in support of their law enforcement efforts. These include the ATF, DEA, DHHS, DHS, DOJ, FBI, IRS CI, OIGs, and the U.S. Marshals Service—among many others.

What Does it Mean if My Company Received a Federal Search Warrant?

If your company received a federal search warrant, this generally means that your company (or someone within your company) is the subject or target of a federal criminal investigation and it is possible that federal law enforcement agents will show up at your door without notice. This is an extremely serious matter that requires highly experienced legal representation knowledgeable about the search and seizure rule.

How Should a Company Respond to a Federal Search Warrant?

If federal agents have served your company with a search warrant, you should engage experienced defense counsel promptly. Once you engage a law firm to represent your company, the firm should work quickly to assemble a response team, communicate with the special agents handling the search, and begin formulating a targeted defense strategy.


Contact the Federal Defense Team at Oberheiden P.C.

If you need to know more about how to protect your company (or yourself) when faced with federal warrants, contact Oberheiden P.C. today. Call 888-680-1745 or tell us how we can reach you online to speak with a former federal prosecutor or special agent in confidence as soon as possible.

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