Standing by while law enforcement agents go through all your business records and operations can be very frustrating and stressful. No one likes being faced with a search warrant especially when it affects your business and your livelihood. A dozen agents descending on your business in the middle of the day is disruptive and may affect your ability to conduct business. Your goal should be to minimize the damage and protect yourself legally. If you remain calm and follow these steps, you can ensure the best possible outcome for you and your business.
Don’t take it for granted that the search is legal, ask to see the proper paperwork and take down badge numbers and names of the officers in charge. Also, ask for the name of the prosecutor; your attorney will need this.
Before the search even commences, pick up the phone and call your attorney. Let them know what is going on and see if they should be there in person. Your attorney may speak directly with agents on your behalf. Many times the agents in charge prefer to work with lawyers.
Although they do not have to comply, request that law enforcement agents do not talk to any of your employees or search your premises until your lawyer arrives. Your attorney will know better how to protect you and to watch what is going on and prevent anything that oversteps legal boundaries or searching any areas that are not covered by the warrant. You may also ask to see a copy of the affidavit, but they may not comply.
Keep a close eye on agents performing the search to make sure they keep it to the specifics of the search warrant. Designate a trusted manager or employee to monitor the process if you cannot. From the minute they arrive, document everything from the slightest detail. You never know when these points may come in handy during any follow-up questioning or for your defense should there be a prosecution. Keep track of areas they searched and any employees they paid particular attention to or interviewed.
If you have privileged information such as communications between you and your attorney, be sure to point out that those are “off limits.” For instance, if you employ in-house counsel their office may include a lot of attorney-client privileged information. Refuse to allow a search of any areas that violate this protection.
A business search can be extremely unsettling for employees. If you can, send home all non-essential personnel. Authorities may keep everyone in a single area while they search to avoid any confrontations. Let employees know that speaking with investigators is voluntary; they do not have to comply. Talking with agents can be confusing and upsetting. Let your employees know they also have the right to have their lawyer present if they do decide to speak with investigators. Instruct employees to offer truthful answers if they do choose to interview.
Ask for a complete inventory of what was taken during the search and compare it with your own inventory after they leave. Take images of each area searched as well to preserve any evidence that might help you later.
Since most companies now store everything on a computer, the search warrant will most likely include digital assets. The agents may want to confiscate your computers. Be sure to ask them instead to clone the hard drives and leave the machines so you can resume business operations. Do not give out any passwords without first speaking to your attorney about it.
Agents may seize documents or records that are critical to your operations. Ask for them to make a copy and get the name and phone number for the agent in charge that you can contact them to get copies as soon as possible to resume business as usual.
Above all else, do not get upset or act irrationally. Stay calm and be polite. Don’t interfere with the search but don’t offer any assistance either. Be sure not to talk to the media or any press about the search. Ask your employees not to as well. Do not destroy any records during or after the search and do not hide things. Do not agree to a search beyond what was outlined in the warrant. Don’t volunteer any information, and only answer questions with your lawyer present.