For most dog breeders and owners, few things are as fear-inducing and stressful as when a police officer or an animal control officer unexpectedly knocks at your door. The American Kennel Club expects everyone who registers a dog with us to know, understand and obey the laws of their jurisdictions. Nevertheless, animal rights activists or anyone with a questionable motive may file a complaint with authorities, and allegations alone can result in warrants, citations, seizure, and even criminal charges.
At a recent AKC Legislative Conference, an attorney from a national law firm discussed some considerations when faced with a search warrant presented by a police or animal control officer. It is important to note that the attorney offered these considerations in a general discussion. He did not offer them as legal advice and they were not intended as legal advice, because legal advice is best obtained on the particular facts of each situation.
- Immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney, no matter what time of day. Identifying an experienced attorney in your area in advance of any issue is a wise decision.
- Ask for your copy of the search warrant and if you are not provided a copy, do not consent to a search without first contacting an attorney. (Anyone can search your house and property, if you agree. Do not let anyone in without a search warrant.)
- Be courteous and professional. Request a short time to review the warrant and to obtain legal advice (though enforcement officials are not required to wait). Read the warrant carefully to determine five things from the document in advance of letting anyone inside:
- Confirm the address of the property listed as yours.
- The specific areas authorized by the court to be searched.
- The alleged offense(s) that are the subject of the warrant.
- Name and title of the person in possession of the warrant and whether those with him or her are authorized to aid in the execution of the search (get their names and titles too). Business cards are helpful.
- If the government attorney in charge of the investigation is not clear on the warrant, ask for their name and phone number.
- If the search is of your place of business and executed during the workday, ask if agents are willing to postpone the search until the close of business, with proper safeguards against destruction of evidence, with a veterinarian or other animal husbandry expert present. Again, if agents have a search warrant, they are not required to wait.
- During a search, assign someone to monitor each agent or group and take notes of where they search, what they remove, and anyone to whom they speak.
- In the event a search is not being conducted in compliance with the warrant, or if any agent objects to being followed, politely and firmly consult with the agent in charge.
- Do not agree to an expansion of the search beyond what is described in the warrant without consulting your attorney first.
- You may try to learn from the agent in charge the nature of the concern and investigation. Do not answer questions of substance other than the location of documents or information, without your attorney’s advice. Keep notes of what you discussed with the agent in charge.
- A list must be given to you of anything agents remove. Keep an accurate record of anything seized and from where it was taken. If animals are seized, ask for information on where the animals will be taken.
- When agents leave your premises, make certain all of them have left and document the time. Having this written information may prove helpful to your legal counsel.
The American Kennel Club reproduces this for informational purposes only. For legal advice, individuals are strongly encouraged to contact a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction. Click here to access the American Bar Association’s Bar Directories and Lawyer Finders page.