Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Raids
Our lawyers focus on federal crimes and other government investigations, like FBI raids.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the law enforcement agency of the United States federal government.
The FBI has federal jurisdiction as an agency under the United States Department of Justice and reports to both the Office of the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.
The FBI has the power to investigate all federal crimes, including:
- White Collar Crime
- Cyber Crime
- Public Corruption
- Organized Crime
- Weapons of Mass Destruction
- Civil Rights Violations
Often, as part of their investigations, the FBI will conduct what is typically known as a “raid.” A “raid” is a search of the residence, office, or otherwise private area of any person that is believed to have information relating to a crime and could result in the seizure of anything to be considered “evidence.”
In order to conduct a raid, the FBI must have a search warrant.
In this article we will discuss:
(1) What is necessary for the FBI to acquire a proper search warrant;
(2) What a search warrant allows the FBI to actually search during a raid;
(3) What to do if you are the subject of an FBI raid; and
(4) What you should do following an FBI raid.
If you, or your business or organization, have been the subject of an FBI raid, or think that you could become the subject of one, contact a federal defense lawyer at the Blanch Law Firm at (212) 736-3900 for a free legal consultation.
In order to obtain a valid search warrant, the FBI must have probable cause.
If the FBI believes there is probable cause they will present it to a magistrate (a judge). The judge will then decide if there is sufficient information to issue a search warrant. If the magistrate decides there is probable cause a search warrant will be issued that narrowly describes the place to be searched and the persons or things that may be seized.
The magistrate must be a neutral and detached third party from the investigation and case, if the matter goes on to trial.
Alternatively, the FBI may request a subpoena from a grand jury. A subpoena allows for the person to whom it is sent to gather and decide on their own what information is important to the FBI’s investigation. This takes away both the surprise element and mass gathering of information ability of the FBI during a raid.
For many reasons, in certain cases, the FBI can prefer a raid over having a subpoena issued in order to keep the element of surprise and to get a totality of information rather than curated snippets.
Probable cause is the “substantial chance” or “fair probability” that a crime has taken or is taking place. It is not a strict rule – a law enforcement agent must only have a “reasonable suspicion” of crime to be granted a search warrant.
Probable Cause is based on preliminary evidence, retained by the FBI, of a crime (past, present or future) or that a person has additional information about a crime. Preliminary evidence can be gathered through either direct or hearsay information.
Direct information is information that does not require further inference in order to prove that is correct.
This type of information may be gathered through direct observation of an event or direct testimony of someone who was apart of an event.
Hearsay information is information that is not known first-hand by the person putting forth the information.
Generally, hearsay information may be gained through a source not officially apart of the FBI including tips and crime reports from anonymous sources or through confidential sources who frequently work with FBI agents.
Contents of a Search Warrant
There are two important parts that are necessary to make a search warrant valid. First, the search warrant must contain a detailed description of the area, places, and things to be searched. Second, the search warrant must contain a detailed description of what evidence can be seized.
Things to be Searched
In order for a search warrant to be valid it must contain a detailed description of the area, places, people, and things to be searched. Any search that takes place outside of this description is illegal.
A valid description of the areas and things to be searched is generally very specific. The description will be of more than just an address. The warrant will typically give information about the location and describe rooms to be searched, the specifics on any vehicles to be searched, information any drawers, cabinets, or containers to be searched, or the IP addresses of specific computers to be searched.
For example, in the 2014 warrant executed on MegaUpload, the following description given was as to the premises to be searched:
“Computer servers owned by Carpathia Hosting, headquartered at 43480 Yukon Drive. Suite 200, Ashburn, Virginia 20147, leased to its customer, MegaUpload, including, but not limited to, computers assigned the following IP addresses: ….”
Another valid example would be:
“A single family home located at 123 Main Street, New York, New York 10016 being red brick and one story building and all of the rooms, closets, and anything large enough to store drugs or drug paraphernalia within.”
Typically, so much detail is included as to avoid the warrant being considered invalid if some piece of information on it is incorrect. The more details provided in the warrant means that there is a smaller chance that the wrong area, thing, or person will be searched when it is executed.
Evidence to be Seized
A valid search warrant must contain a detailed description of what evidence will be seized as a result of the raid.
Typically, this section of a search warrant will include the specific crime or crimes that are being investigated and that allowed for the receipt of a search warrant.
An example of this, from the 2014 MegaUpload warrant mentioned above, states:
“ITEMS TO BE SEIZED. Items evidencing violations of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2319 and Title 17, United States Code, Section 506 (Criminal copyright infringement); Title 18, United States Code, Section 2 (Aiding and Abetting the foregoing offenses), and Title 18, United States Code Section 371 (Conspiracy) including but not limited to the following: …”
This wording allows for the search to be relatively broad in scope while still being descriptive and narrow. The amount of items that could be found that evidence a violation of a law, or laws, could easily be in the millions.
Notice the statement “including but not limited to.” This statement also allows for a broad range of evidence to be seized while not seeming too expansive to be impermissible because it precedes a list of more specific, detailed evidence that the FBI will be looking for during their raid.
What Can the FBI Actually Search and Seize During a Raid?
A raid conducted by the FBI pursuant to a valid search warrant means that the FBI only has legal permission to search certain things and seize certain things. As reviewed above, a search warrant must contain detailed descriptions of the areas or things to be searched as well as a detailed description of what things may be seized as items of evidence.
A search warrant may give a specific area to be searched, the Offices of Mr. Frank Jones located at Suite 500, 123 XYZ lane, New York, NY 10016 as an example, but leave the description of evidence a bit more sparse. This leaves room for the FBI to seize more evidence then may be needed in order to ensure they collect every pertinent piece of information.
In some cases, where the description of evidence to be seized is broad there is the possibility that some evidence seized could be protected by one of the privileged relationships protected by law including:
- Lawyer and Client Relationships
- Doctor and Patient Relationships
- Some Communications Between Spouses
What if some of the evidence seized might be subject to a legal privilege?
Legally privileged communications can be extremely complex and nuanced. At the most basic level, there are certain communications between 2 people that share specific relationships that cannot be called into evidence in court to be used against one of those 2 people.
This protection is not particularly broad and there are many loopholes to it there are situation specific.
If you believe that some of the documents that have been seized by the FBI during a raid may be privileged, contact an experienced attorney. An attorney will be able to answer any questions you may have about the specific documents seized and what can be done to ensure the privileged information cannot be used against you, or anyone else, in court.
As an added layer of protection, the will FBI typically employ a “taint” team, sometimes known as the “privilege” team, to go over the documents before the information is handed over to the prosecutorial team. It is the job of this taint team to pull any privileged information or files out of the seized evidence.
The FBI taint team, though, will not have your, or any other persons, bests interests in mind while combing through the multitude of documents on hand. The lawyers on this team will only be following the rules of law and may allow evidence to go to the prosecutors because it may fit into a privilege loophole.
An experience lawyer will be able to file a motion to suppress (keep the evidence out of court) and argue that the communications in question do actually fall under a privilege communication and do not fit within a loophole of privilege.
What Should I do if I am the Subject of an FBI Raid?
First and foremost, if you are the subject of an FBI raid, ask to see the search warrant and agent’s badges. Every agent is required to carry an FBI badge and photo identification.
Reading over the search warrant is important. You should know what the FBI agents are looking for, where they are allowed to look, and what they are allowed to seize as evidence. Knowing this information can be important because you can watch the agents and make sure that they are not overstepping what the warrant allows them to do.
Next, contact an attorney. During a raid, and any criminal investigation, you have a constitutional right to counsel. You can request that the agents wait until an attorney arrives on scene. Often, if it will not unduly delay the search, the agents will comply.
The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner they can begin to aid you, guide you, and make sure that your interests are protected.
In addition, make sure you do not say anything. Speaking to agents during a raid could lead to you inadvertently making an incriminating statement. This could put you in more legal trouble or could lead to legal trouble if the raid was only meant to gather information and evidence about someone else’s crime.
Not speaking also means that you will be unable to give consent to the agents present to search areas that are outside the scope of the warrant. Since search warrants must be specific, if there is an area that is not described in the warrant the agents cannot search for evidence there unless you, or some other person who has permission to access that area, gives the agents consent to search it.
During a raid the FBI agents present will not let anyone come into the area being searched. They will also not let anyone leave the area. It is best to be cooperative and not cause any issues that could lead to you facing further legal troubles.
Aftermath of a FBI Raid
Following the conclusion of an FBI raid on your residence, office, or other private area there are several things you can do to insure that you are prepared for any possible outcome.
First, take a moment to gather yourself. Being the subject of a FBI raid is stressful. You do not want to make any rash decisions that could negatively impact your future.
Next, if you have not already done so, contact an attorney. An attorney will be able to fully analyze the search warrant to see if it is valid and can make the proper legal challenges if it is not. An attorney will also be helpful in the attempt to get back anything that was seized as evidence during the raid.
Hiring an experienced federal criminal attorney can be the difference between a favorable outcome and an unfavorable outcome in your case.
Be sure to take photos after the raid is over and all of the agents have left. These photos will help if you are ever arrested and formally charged. The photos will show the exact location of pieces of evidence and will help to show discrepancies in the trial testimony of any agent.
FBI Raids in the News
FBI raids are prolific in pop-culture. TV shows, movies, books, and music across genres make mention of them. They are often shown as high-adrenaline agents busting through doors, shootouts, and suspects running down an alley to get away. In reality, FBI raids are generally not so exciting and flashy.
As an example, consider the raid of the law offices of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer.
The news of the raid was headline grabbing because of the nature of the person whose office was being raided and who his clients are but the raid itself was uneventful.
Most FBI raids do not make the news.
In this case, the FBI executed 17 raids across the country and it was virtually unmentioned in the news cycle.
To access the FBI’s press release click here.
Frequently Asked Questions
“Is there any way to know that I will be the subject of a FBI raid?”
Generally, no there is no way to know for sure if you are going to be the subject of an FBI raid. One of the main reasons the FBI conducts a raid is because it allows for the element of surprise. The FBI does not make a formal announcement of when a raid will take place in order to catch the subject of the raid off guard.
With that being said, it is possible to anticipate if you may become the subject of a future raid.
If you are engaged in an illegal activity, like the growing or selling of marijuana, or know that you have evidence of information regarding something or someone who is under federal investigation, than the likelihood of your business, residence, or belongings being raided is higher than average.
Call an Attorney You Can Trust
Our attorneys are respected federal criminal litigators with knowledge and experience in all judicial practices and procedures. We have defended public companies and private individuals and will strive to protect you, your family, and your rights from charges and accusations of criminal possession of a forgery device.
Call the Blanch Law Firm at (212) 736-3900 for a free legal consultation.