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What Is a Federal Search Warrant?


Federal law enforcement officials obtain search warrants after they must move quickly on a criminal investigation, or are concerned that sensitive materials they need is likely to be at risk of being moved, concealed, altered or destroyed.

The request for a search warrant is made by a federal law enforcement agency if officials conclude that information, often documents or electronic devices, related to a criminal investigation could be found at someone’s residence, business, automotive or other property.

A search warrant isn’t in itself a sign or accusation of the topic’s guilt.

Nonetheless, the usage of such a warrant does indicate a way of prosecutorial urgency — and is used only when “it seems that the usage of a subpoena, summons, request, or other less intrusive alternative technique of obtaining the materials would substantially jeopardize the supply or usefulness of the materials sought,” in line with the Justice Manual, the department’s official guidebook on criminal procedure.

Neither the Justice Department nor the F.B.I. has the authority to act unilaterally. A federal judge or magistrate must approve of the request, and jurists often demand highly specific limitations on the search to guard an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure before granting a warrant.

Law enforcement agencies must meet certain legal benchmarks, litigated over a long time, before a judge can log out.

First, they have to prove “probable cause,” evidence that the search is probably going to search out evidence of illegality; if the warrant is found to lack such proof, the search is taken into account illegal under a 2004 precedent.

As well as, the courts have ruled that a search warrant should describe the situation and nature of the search with “particularity” — to forestall agents from misusing a warrant to conduct a search that goes beyond the parameters of what has been specifically requested.

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