Picture this: you are at your company when you hear a commotion outside. You see a team of law enforcement officers abruptly enter with a search warrant in hand and begin searching your premises. What should you do?
To help business owners navigate scenarios like this, we put together a quick guide of what you should—and should not—do in the face of search warrants.
Don’t talk your way out of it.
If your company has received a search warrant, it means that law enforcement has already gathered enough evidence to convince a judge of probable cause to search your premises for further evidence of a felony. So, when law enforcement comes knocking at your door with a search warrant, you should take it seriously. Trying to talk your way out of it will not help your cause.
What you can do, however, is abstain from answering their questions—except for questions about the location of items named in the search warrant—until your counsel is present.
Cooperate in the search.
The only way to handle a search warrant is to cooperate with the officers and allow the search to proceed. However, you do not need to cooperate with them if they attempt to question you and your employees while executing the search.
One best practice is to appoint one person to be the “Keeper of the Keys”, a person in charge of cooperating with the officers’ requests. This person will know the premises and be the one to let officers and agents into the areas they need to search. By having a “Keeper of the Keys”, you will be avoiding law enforcement officers from breaking company property, like locks, doors, and cabinets.
When deciding the employee for this role, you should choose a person who ideally isn’t particularly knowledgeable about the subject matter of the underlying investigation. They should not be able to answer any questions other than “where is x?” and “what’s the password?”
Instruct your employees.
Oftentimes, serving a search warrant is a way for law enforcement to obtain employee interviews. Therefore, when law enforcement arrives, you should try to send your employees home for the day. In case Law Enforcement does obtain the contact information of the employees, employees should be instructed that:
- Law enforcement will likely attempt to interview them before allowing them to leave;
- The employees contacted will need to identify themselves, and provide contact information; but
- The government cannot compel them to answer questions because all interviews are voluntary, and they have the absolute right to decline.
- If the employee consents to an interview, they have the right to counsel (at the company expense); and
- The company takes no position as to whether they should consent to an interview; but
- If they do answer questions, they must do so truthfully; and
- They can’t actively dissuade anyone else from answering questions and/or doing so truthfully (which doesn’t mean, however, that they can’t remind others of their rights to refuse, or to have counsel); and
- Whatever they do, they can’t hide or destroy potential evidence (or encourage anyone else to do so).
Hire an experienced team of attorneys.
Hiring a team of attorneys can be beneficial when handling search warrants. But you may be wondering: “What can an experienced team of attorneys do that I can’t?”
- Deal with Law Enforcement attempting to interview you and your employees.
As soon as they arrive, the attorneys will put a stop to interviews of anyone senior enough to bind the company. These attorneys will also arrange individual counsel for anyone less senior who asked for counsel prior to being interviewed. In addition, they will be able to quickly determine what questions are being asked—or have been asked—of anyone who agrees to be interviewed without counsel.
- Deal with other issues arising from the execution of the warrant.
As experienced attorneys, they will be able to deal with other issues arising from the warrant with ease. They will oppose the search and seizure of items outside the scope of the warrant—unless such items were in “plain view,” will be able to assert attorney-client privilege as necessary, as well as advocate for on-site imaging of electronic data and the prompt return of, or access to, seized property.
If your company has been served a search warrant, you will likely need to consult not only with an employment defense attorney but also with a criminal defense attorney. For more assistance regarding search warrants, contact Hackler Flynn & Associates and talk to our employment defense attorneys today.
DISCLAIMER: Content within this post should not be considered legal advice and is for informational purposes only. Communications made through this post do not create an attorney-client relationship. Hackler Flynn & Associates is not responsible for any content that you may access from third-party resources that may be accessed through or linked to this post. Hackler Flynn & Associates is only licensed to practice in California.
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