Everything You Need to Know About a Federal Search Warrant

What is a federal search warrant? What searches does it authorize? Get answers to these and more questions from Scrofano Law PC in Virginia, Northern Virginia, DC and Maryland. Call us for more information.

Learn the Basics: Federal Search Warrant


What is a federal search warrant? What grounds does a district judge in a federal court constitute a search warrant for federal agents to use and search property.

When they hear the phrase “federal search warrant,” a lot of people wonder if it’s as serious as it sounds. Is it true that the F.B.I. could come and kick down your door just because they think you’re up to something?

You may have heard things about a search warrant that make it seem like something entirely arbitrary or like it can happen out of nowhere. That’s not entirely true, although, of course, any search warrant can be cause for concern.

Here’s a factual rundown of a topic that worries many, commonly known as a “search warrant” or an “F.B.I. raid.”

What Are Federal Search Warrants?


A federal warrant is a document issued by a judicial officer, most often a United States federal magistrate judge, that authorizes federal law enforcement agents to search a person, place, or thing for evidence of criminal activity.

However, a federal law enforcement officer must present a written affidavit detailing why they think you committed a federal crime and why they believe the evidence of that crime can be found on the property they plan to search.

If you are under investigation by a federal law enforcement agency, their agents may aggressively seek the evidence and try to conduct searches without properly obtaining federal warrants. Reaching out to a lawyer knowledgeable about the search and seizure rule may be the best way to make sure your rights are protected.


For a Federal Warrant to Be Valid, It Must Satisfy Several Requirements:

– A  judge or magistrate must issue it. You cannot get a warrant issued by any other authority.

– It must specify the place they will search and the person or thing to be seized. The Fourth Amendment prohibits “general” warrants — those that fail to identify what they are searching for or do not clearly define where to search.

– A judge may issue search warrants when there is probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime and that they will find the evidence in the stipulated place. Probable cause is based on facts known to the police officer requesting the warrant and can include a written affidavit.

Common Types of Search Warrants:


Federal Government Warrant Search

There is a federal government warrant search for every individual in the United States. The federal government maintains criminal records on all individuals and will have a file on any individual with an outstanding warrant.

A search of the federal government criminal database will return records on any individual with an active warrant and information about the crime they are wanted. An attorney from a criminal defense law firm will work to help mitigate the process if you are guilty of such offenses.


State Warrant Search

Each state has its system for maintaining criminal records, including information on outstanding search warrants.

A search of the state criminal database will return records on any individual with an active warrant in that state.

Federal search warrants and federal arrest warrants criteria will vary by state, so it is essential to check the specific requirements for the state you are interested in.


Federal Court Warrant Search

The federal court system has a database of outstanding warrants.

This search will return records on any individual with an active warrant who has had contact with the federal court system.

Contact with the federal court system could include being charged with a crime, appearing before a judge, or being arrested by federal law enforcement officers.


International Warrant Search

Some law enforcement agencies maintain databases of outstanding warrants for individuals who are wanted for crimes outside of the United States.

A search of this type will return records on any individual with an active international warrant.

Again, the specific search criteria will vary by agency and country, so it is imperative to check the requirements carefully.

If you get yourself in such a snare, it is prudent to contact a criminal defense lawyer to help you.

What Is an Outstanding Federal Warrant Search?


An outstanding federal warrant search requests information made to the issuing agency or the local police department. Searching for an outstanding federal warrant has to be carried out at the sheriff’s office or the police station. To inquire about a warrant over the phone, you will have to call 911 and ask for information.

An outstanding federal warrant is a warrant that law enforcement officers have not yet executed. These types of warrants are also known as active warrants and open warrants. Most types of warrants issued under federal law never expire; they will be outstanding until they are executed or canceled by the court. Federal agents from the F.B.I. or D.E.A. may execute outstanding warrants without prior warning.

If you believe that there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest for a federal crime, consider taking the first step and contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Outstanding warrants are limited in geographical reach, but they do not have an expiration date. Once an order is issued, it will stand indefinite until it is served or it is closed by a court of law. They put warrants not executed within 48 hours after being issued into a database shared among law enforcement agents.

What Is in the Federal Warrant Search List?

The Federal Warrant Search List is the first and only warrant search list in the United States available to the public. This list contains the names of anyone with an active or outstanding federal arrest warrant.


The Federal Warrant Search List Includes People Who Have:

– Unpaid taxes

– Unpaid fines on Federal property

– Unpaid student loans

– Criminal offenses such as fraud, drug trafficking, identity theft, and more.

Federal Warrant Requirements

Under the Fourth Amendment, individuals are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and agents. The term “search” refers to any infringement of the privacy of individuals that society considers reasonable.

Seizures occur when a person’s possessory interests in property are meaningfully interfered with. But not every governmental intrusion constitutes a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment; any government action or intrusion that doesn’t amount to a “search” isn’t subject to Fourth Amendment requirements.

A judge orders search warrants. They authorize law enforcement officers to conduct a particular search of designated premises and seize certain items outlined in the warrant. To get a search warrant, officers must convince a judge that there is probable cause to believe:

(1) That there has been a crime committed and

(2) That evidence of that crime is likely to be found on the premises to be searched.

Familiarize Yourself with the Process


No matter how innocent you are, it can still be stressful and unsettling to have law enforcement officials bearing down on you. If the F.B.I. knocks on your door with a search warrant, now you’ll know what to expect. By knowing the basics of what is and isn’t legal during a search, ideally, you are in a better position to advocate for your rights.


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