The prospect of a visit or raid from law enforcement officials can strike terror in the hearts of even the most battle-scarred business owners. The fact is that local police officers or agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can come calling at any time. They may or may not have a search or arrest warrant in hand. They could land on your doorstep to search your home or business, make an arrest or simply chat with you. Or they may approach you on the street.
What should you do to protect yourself and your business in these circumstances? Here is a succinct overview of what to expect on the day that the FBI comes knocking at your door and ten (10) specific do’s and don’ts to keep you out of trouble.
The FBI has federal jurisdiction as an agency under the United States Department of Justice to investigate federal crimes including white collar crime, terrorism, cybercrime, organized crime, weapons of mass destruction amongst others and, as a result, has broad investigatory powers. If the FBI believes there is probable cause, they must first present it to a judge, who will then decide if there is sufficient information to issue a search warrant. Only after a judge decides there is probable cause will a search warrant be issued that narrowly describes the place to be searched and the persons or things that may be legally seized. Any search that takes place outside the description contained in the search warrant may be deemed illegal.
A valid description of the areas and items to be searched needs to be quite specific. A warrant will typically provide information about (i) location of business and offices to be searched; (ii) specifics of any vehicles to be searched; (iii) information concerning cabinets, containers or storage units to be searched; or (iv) the IP addresses of specific computers to be searched.
How to React in the Face of an FBI Raid?
Here are ten (10) specific steps to take (or not take) in the face of an FBI raid:
- Find out who is at the door and ask for identification and a copy of the search warrant. You have the right to confirm the identities of the agents at the door by requesting to see their credentials. Ask to see the search warrant and agents’ badges. Every FBI agent is required to carry an FBI badge and photo identification.
- If the FBI agents have proper identification and a legally authorized search warrant, you are obligated by law to allow them to search within the specific parameters of the search warrant.
- Read the search warrant to confirm what the FBI agents are looking for and where they are permitted to search. It will be important for you to confirm that the FBI agents are not overstepping their bounds and what the search warrant allows them to do.
- Immediately contact your lawyer. During an FBI raid and any criminal investigation that follows, you have a constitutional right to counsel. You can request that the FBI agents wait until your lawyer arrives if the wait does not unreasonably delay the search.
- If the FBI agents lack a search warrant and simply ask for permission to enter or search your business, you have a right to refuse entry. Voluntarily allowing FBI agents into your business when they do not have a search warrant increases your exposure for criminal charges or investigation. Under these circumstances, step away from your business and close the door behind you while you identify the FBI agents and the reasons for their visit.
- Do not communicate with the FBI agents beyond the logistics of their search as outlined above without your lawyer present. You have an absolute right to refuse to speak with the FBI agents without your lawyer present.
- Remember that the phrase “anything you say, can and will be used against you” applies whether or not you are under arrest.
- Remain calm and respectful when interacting with the FBI. Do not attempt to take the law into your own hands when faced with an FBI raid as it will not end well for you. Keep your hands visible at all times and avoid sudden movements or taking any actions that could escalate into an altercation.
- Take photos after the FBI raid is over and all of the FBI agents have left in order to show the exact location of pieces of evidence and to demonstrate any discrepancies in the trial testimony of any FBI agent.
- Under no circumstances should you do anything to interfere with the FBI agents and their search because doing so may result in a charge of obstruction of justice.