Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Search Warrants v. Subpoenas: Practical Considerations on Which Method the Feds Will Use

[Photo from]
According to various news reports, earlier today, state and federal law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at a social services (DFACS) office in Columbus, Georgia. According to the reports, the agents were looking for evidence pertaining to an investigation of DFACS employees for allegedly falsifying records to obtain federal funding. It struck me as a little bit odd that government agents were doing a raid on a government office.

But the facts of that investigation really are not the point I wanted to make here. Instead, I want to discuss in this post some of the practical reasons why the feds sometimes select search warrants, as opposed to utilizing grand jury subpoenas, or some other method, to obtain evidence of a crime.

As a former federal prosecutor for over 20 years, (currently, I am an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer), I often had to advise or plan with federal agents about which evidence-gathering method to use. A common reason to utilize a search warrant, (instead of a subpoena), is if you are afraid that the "bad guys," or targets of the investigation, will engage in a "shredding party," if you tip them off, or that you may give them time otherwise to remove or destroy incriminating records.

But, trust me, there are also some practical reasons NOT to use a search warrant! For instance, if you go in with a search warrant, you may be required to seize everything!  This can amount to millions of pages of documents that you are then going to have to inventory, store, and actually read! On the other hand, if you use a subpoena, you can make a rifle shot request for a relatively few, selected documents and avoid all the trouble and mess of a search warrant!

Another problem with utilizing a search warrant involves the serious disruption it causes to what may be otherwise be a legitimate office or business.

Every white collar crime investigation is different! And that is what made it exciting to be a federal prosecutor! These are just a few of the practical reasons why one evidence-gathering method may be chosen over another. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your lovely blog at the Thursday Favorite Things blog hop. xo