Search warrants: An audit investigation road map

Most investigations begin with subpoenas rather than search warrants. But Robert Griffith, a health care attorney in Boston, says that even though the vast majority of information is collected through subpoenas, attorneys should train their clients how to respond to warrants as well.

One reason to focus on search warrants is that once they are issued, there is no time to think, says Griffith. Beyond that, he says the same road map that is used for search warrants can be applied to subpoenas.

Most warrants are daytime warrants that must be executed between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. According to Griffith, the first step in dealing with a subpoena is to designate a contact person at the client's office whose job it is to contact outside counsel.

In fact, he says, every client should have a person who is trained to exercise efficient damage control and contact the attorney within the first 10 or 15 minutes. "It doesn’t matter if we are talking about subpoenas or investigations," he adds.

First, he says, clients should get their cards and ascertain all agency affiliations. Then they should obtain a copy of the warrant or subpoena along with any attachments.

Warrants authorize agents to search specific information and seize specific property, notes Griffith. "Someone needs to be doing a checklist, just as you would with a subpoena," he says. "You always want to limit the scope of the warrant."

He says the client should obtain receipts or inventory for the property received and ask for copies of documents essential to conducting business without impeding or obstructing the agent’s efforts to execute the warrant.

It is important to remember that search warrants do not authorize employee interviews, adds Griffith.

If interviews are conducted, he says, it is important to note exactly who was interviewed, the questions asked, and the answers given. A grand jury subpoena also may be served, but that does not mean that the employee must consent to the interview during the search, he explains.

If counsel is unavailable when the warrant is executed, an employee should be assigned to monitor the agents conducting the search, says Griffith. In addition, notes should be taken regarding the agent’s conduct as well as the areas searched and the documents or items seized. "Employees should not volunteer information," he asserts.

Finally, Griffith says, counsel should make sure that all of the agents have left at the end of the search and compile a list of all the areas searched. For each area searched, counsel should identify the personnel with knowledge of any missing items and list all items taken by agents.