28 U.S.C. § 533, 4th Amendment: The Federal Bureau of Investigation has some of the broadest power of all federal agencies. It investigates everything from terrorism, cyber crimes, drug trafficking, organized crime, and white-collar crime. Sometimes, during the course of the investigation, FBI agents will conduct what is commonly known as a ‘raid’ on suspects. Hollywood has created an image of men and women in tacky FBI windbreakers, busting through doors, weapons drawn, demanding full access to a home or office, and then completely wrecking the place. While some of the aspects of this are accurate, it is important to remember that the FBI does not conduct ‘raids’ whenever it feels like it – they are required under the law to get a specific search warrant, and the execution of this search warrant is the ‘raid.’
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause. The searches must be reasonable and specific. So, for example, if the subject in question is suspected of illegal securities trading, the search will likely be focused on computers, bank accounts and bank documents, financial papers, and the like. Searching their vehicle is most likely not inclusive in the warrant unless there are specific circumstances warranting this search. The rooms to be searched must be identified in the warrant, or there must be a specific list of things the FBI hopes to obtain during the course of the search.
These warrants are obtained by the FBI agent with preliminary evidence that can be based on direct information (like their personal observation) or hearsay information, which can be admitted in these kinds of hearings. In the event the FBI conducts a search based on a warrant, always ask to see the warrant. It is best to cooperate when possible with law enforcement, even if you think they are in the wrong. You do not have to answer any questions the FBI agents ask you, and you can assert your right to an attorney at any point.
There is not a lot you can do to anticipate an FBI raid. Their purpose is to surprise the subjects of their warrants so as to preserve evidence. Therefore, you will need to behave reactively, seeking out legal counsel as soon as you have been involved in an FBI raid. An attorney can help you develop a case strategy if you are accused of a crime. They can also assess the legality of the search warrant, and whether the FBI acted appropriately in executing it. If they did not act properly and follow the law, there is a chance that whatever was obtained during the search can be excluded at trial.
Recently, the FBI, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney, conducted a raid in the home of an employee for a pharmaceutical company in connection to an investigation concerning insider trading. Raids can sometimes be used to set an example for other criminals, and this raid was no exception. Agents busted through the subject’s door at 7:15 a.m. on Friday morning, across the street from a local middle school. The important thing to remember is that FBI raids, while scary, are usually done legally. However, it is crucial to seek out legal counsel after experiencing a raid to confirm the legality of the raid, and to protect your constitutional rights if you have been accused of a crime.