By: Lisa A. Mantella, Esq.
Do your employees know what to do if a law enforcement agent arrives at your place of business with a search warrant? A company’s response following the execution of a search warrant can impact the entire government investigation. The following are guidelines for employees when dealing with law enforcement agencies.
Ensure that one person is designated to interact with government agents.
The execution of a search warrant can create a chaotic and stressful environment. Maintaining order is necessary to track the documents that are being seized and manage the flow of information. Additionally, officers/agents can use any information overheard from employee conversations, so consider sending nonessential employees home.
Call in-house or designated outside legal counsel immediately.
It is important that the individual most likely to make first contact with officers know who to call and are aware of the importance of doing so immediately. Law enforcement will not interfere with a phone call to counsel.
Get a copy of the search warrant and contact information for the detective/ agent.
You have the right to request the name of the law enforcement officer and the agency with which he/she is associated. Law enforcement will oftentimes leave a business card for future contact. You also have the right to a copy of a search warrant. Even where the affidavit of probable cause is sealed, the search warrant outlining the items that are subject to seizure must be made available.
Do not consent to the search.
Employees should be warned not to sign any form seeking consent to search the premises or make any statements that indicate consent to the search. Nor should employees consent to the search of any other premises or for any other items that are not listed on the search warrant. If consent is requested, employees should direct law enforcement to counsel.
Monitor the search.
Law enforcement agents are authorized to search only the areas specified in the warrant and seize only the items listed in the warrant. Make notes of the areas searched and the items seized. Take notes of questions and comments made by the agents.
Request copies of materials that are essential to continue business operations.
Notify the agents and legal counsel of documents that are essential to continued business operations and request for copies to be made. If possible, ask the forensic investigators to make copies of electronic materials onsite rather than removing them for an offsite search. Law enforcement may be willing to facilitate the copies of certain individual files before they seize a computer. Negotiation for the return of hard drives and servers will need to be made through counsel.
Obtain an inventory of the search.
Law enforcement is required to compile an inventory of the items they seize. Request a copy of this inventory before agents leave the premises.
DO NOT obstruct or interfere with the search or attempt to impede law enforcement’s entrance to the office.
DO NOT instruct employees to answer or refuse to answer questions from law enforcement. Employees have the right to accept or decline an interview with law enforcement. It is recommended that the employer provide private counsel to any individual employee that is approached for an interview.
If you have questions about how to handle a search or warrant, or other compliance issues, please contact Leech Tishman’s White Collar Criminal Defense & Government Investigations Practice Group, a part of the firm’s Litigation Practice Group.
Lisa A. Mantella is Counsel with Leech Tishman and is based in the firm’s Pittsburgh office. She is a member of Leech Tishman’s Litigation, Internal Investigations, Embezzlement and White Collar Criminal Defense & Government Investigations Practice Groups. She can be reached at 412.261.1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Leech Tishman Fuscaldo & Lampl is a full-service law firm dedicated to assisting individuals, businesses, and institutions. Leech Tishman offers legal services in alternative dispute resolution, aviation & aerospace, bankruptcy & creditors’ rights, construction, corporate, employee benefits, employment, energy, environmental, estates & trusts, family law, government relations, immigration, insurance coverage & corporate risk mitigation, intellectual property, internal investigations, international legal matters, litigation, real estate, and taxation. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA, Leech Tishman also has offices in El Segundo, CA, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Sarasota and Wilmington, DE.