With this SWAT blog, we'll answer a question proposed in a previous blog, "When a Traditional Search Warrant May Not Be the Best Choice."
We'll review the potential outcomes of immediately executing a traditional search warrant, discuss an interesting development in search and seizure law, and explain how these changes in the law have given officers a legal tool that will help them to solve complex cases like our scenario.
Why executing a traditional search warrant is not the best choice:
If a magistrate authorizes a traditional search warrant of Armen's residence, and you execute that search warrant, Armen will know that he's the target of an investigation, even if no one is at the residence when the search is conducted, and no one sees the officers enter or leave the premises. How will Armen find out about the search?
Traditional search warrants have a notification requirement. Officers who execute a traditional search warrant must provide an immediate return on the results of a search. A return is a document that notifies the subject of a search that the search was conducted. The document must disclose whether evidence was taken during the search and what evidence was taken.
Once Armen realizes he's the target of an investigation, Armen may destroy evidence you failed to discover in your search. Armen may flee the jurisdiction. Armen may threaten or harm potential witnesses. He also may tip off his co-conspirators. These associates may destroy evidence, flee the jurisdiction, harass or kill potential witnesses, or otherwise jeopardize your investigation.
Surveillances and information from informants won't get you the information you need:
Officers have failed to infiltrate Armen's social circle and make contacts with his business associates because Armen has no known contacts outside the Armenian community and speaks only Armenian. None of your informants have gotten close to Armen.
You won't get all the evidence you need to uncover the scope of Armen's crimes and to bust Armen's associates unless you get inside his residence. You'll need to check his e-mail and other computer data, look for photos, for bank statements and other investment records, and for other incriminating evidence.
Is there a legal tool that can help you get the evidence you need? Yes. It's called a covert entry search warrant.
Covert Entry Search Warrants and the USA Patriot Act
Some officers mistakenly believe that the USA Patriot Act only assists law enforcement officers who are conducting terrorism investigations. That's not true. The Patriot Act added many different provisions to the U.S. Code, and some of these provisions apply to criminal investigations that are not terrorism-related. One of these provisions, 18 U.S.C. §3103a, provides statutory authority to use covert entry search warrants.
What's a covert entry search warrant and how would you get one?