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Bob Parker

Bob Parker

Lt. Robert Parker served with the Omaha (Neb.) PD for 30 years and commanded the Emergency Response Unit. He is responsible for training thousands of law enforcement instructors in NTOA's Patrol Response to Active Shooters courses.

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Jose Medina

Jose Medina

Officer Jose Medina is an active member of the Piscataway (N.J.) Police Department's SWAT team and runs Awareness Protective Consultants (Team APC) tactical training.

Covert Entry Search Warrants

Use these warrants to further your investigation without tipping off your target.

July 22, 2011  |  by Alicia Hilton - Also by this author

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?

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Brendan @ 11/5/2016 11:00 PM

I have been the affiant of multiple covert warrants and involved in the entry and collection of evidence. My experience is mostly in drug and firearm work with limited exposure to terrorism. When allowed by law covert entries provide some of the best evidence. It takes away the guess work if the accused are in possession of the evidence sought at the time. There are some inherent risks that are different from normal SW execution such as counter surveillance and ensuring that the unit is unoccupied. Access can also be an issue. My experience is in Canada where this type of warrant is allowed under the provisions of a "General Warrant" whereas working with agencies in the USA my understanding is that there is more reluctance to grant these types of warrants.

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