Could the Patriot Act affect your criminal case? You’ve probably heard about this powerful federal tool that gives authorities the sweeping ability to engage in surveillance tactics, but most people only know of the Patriot Act from what they see on television.
What they may not realize is that the Patriot Act often allows law enforcement to gather potential evidence without first obtaining a warrant. In some cases, authorities can even use the Patriot Act to justify a search of someone’s home or business without first obtaining a search warrant or providing any notice to the property owner.
Furthermore, investigators aren’t restricted to using the Patriot Act in intelligence cases. In many instances, they’ve used the Act to possibly infringe on citizens’ rights in criminal cases. Below, the Dallas federal criminal defense lawyers at the Broden & Mickelsen, LLP break down the Patriot Act and how it could affect your criminal case.
The Patriot Act Explained
The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT Act) was passed shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. At the time, there was little political or public opposition to such a broad surveillance authorization.
Over the years, however, many have questioned whether the federal government should have such widespread authority to act without a warrant. The Act has many components, but one of its main provisions makes it much easier for the federal government to surveil citizens for the purpose of obtaining potentially incriminating information about people, including United States citizens.
While the purported aim of the Act was to allow the federal government to gather intelligence to disrupt terrorist plots, reports show it has been used in numerous criminal investigations, rather than just foreign intelligence investigations.
Prior to the Patriot Act, there were many more restrictions on how U.S. intelligence agencies like the CIA and the FBI could operate — particularly when it came to gathering information and evidence against American citizens.
For example, in a criminal investigation, the federal government had to show probable cause related to the communication of a crime in order to obtain authorization for a wiretap or physical search. This was a different standard than what is used for an intelligence investigation, which only required the federal government to show that the intended target of the wiretap or search was an “agent of a foreign power.”
After the passage of the Patriot Act, however, this distinction disappeared. Instead, federal agents can now obtain a warrant or authorization for a wiretap as long as they seek evidence with a “significant purpose” in an “authorized investigation.” This standard is the same regardless of whether the federal government is operating within an intelligence investigation or a criminal investigation.
Sneak and Peek Searches
Another controversial part of the Patriot Act is the broad power to search, which has become known as a “sneak and peek search.”
This section of the Patriot Act allows federal authorities to conduct a property search without first providing notice to a property owner. This means federal agents can enter a person’s property when they’re not home, gather evidence, take photos of the property, and often seize items without notifying the property owner until after the search is complete.
Those who disagree with these types of searches say it prevents property owners from challenging a search warrant. When someone has notice that their home or business is going to be searched, they can challenge the warrant in court before the search ever occurs. Without the advanced notice, however, they have no legal remedy for stopping what they believe is an unlawful search.
As with wiretaps and physical searches, the sneak and peek search authorized by the Patriot Act is applicable whether the case involves an intelligence investigation or a criminal case.
The Patriot Act in Criminal Cases
Although the Patriot Act was passed as a response to a terrorist attack, the police and investigators have used it in investigations involving criminal cases with ordinary American citizens. In other words, the defendants caught up on those cases were not engaged in any kind of terrorist plot against the United States.
Using the Patriot Act, investigators have been able to get access to the computer metadata of Americans, which means they can trace a person’s internet use, including their bank records, emails, online purchases, and other forms of internet communication.
The Patriot Act is a complicated subject, and it can be difficult to understand all the nuances involved in the law. If you believe investigators acted unlawfully while searching your property or gathering evidence in your case, it’s important to speak to a knowledgeable federal criminal defense attorney at the Broden & Mickelsen, LLP located in Dallas.
Federal criminal cases are extremely complex, and a conviction in federal court can carry serious and long-term consequences. It’s in your best interest to work with a Dallas federal criminal defense lawyer with experience you can trust.
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Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case.